By Tyler Merriam, Donor Outreach Associate, Ausable River Association
Most of us recognize that throwing orange peels on the trail and leaving toilet paper on the ground does not leave the Adirondack ecosystem in its natural state. But how do we communicate that to less experienced outdoor recreationists? The answer, I believe, is to help people understand how their actions affect the areas they care about. The next time you’re hiking that special trail or paddling that glassy pond and see someone do something less than ideal, put your anger aside and give that person the benefit of the doubt. Remind them what a beautiful resource we have here and how lucky we all are to experience it together. Then, as a fellow recreationist, share with them the lessons you’ve learned over the years to keep this resource from being loved to death. Once outdoor enthusiasts develop their own land ethics, they’re far more likely to pass them along to friends, family, and the next generation of Adirondack stewards.
These conversations don’t always go as planned, and people are not always receptive. But there are small victories. My own came late this summer, when I was sitting on a picturesque mountaintop. I overheard a couple of hikers chatting about this year’s prolific chipmunk population and how much they enjoyed seeing these cute critters scampering around. One hiker was munching an orange and, when he was done, proceeded to throw the peel off the edge of a small overlook into the forest below. I mentioned how much I, too, enjoyed seeing so many chipmunks this summer, even if some gardeners were less than thrilled. I then said, “For what it’s worth, an orange peel can take up to two years to decompose on the forest floor. I’m not sure if chipmunks would eat an orange peel, but I imagine some other animal would, and here in the Adirondacks it’s likely not in their natural diet. I used to do the same thing but don’t want to anger the chipmunk gods anymore.” Corny? Yes. But he laughed, and his subsequent response stuck with me: “That’d be the worst. But hey, good point. I’d never thought about animals eating my food scraps.” He left it at that. Did he climb down and pick up his orange peel? No. Ideally, he gives it more thought next time and passes along that knowledge to another hiker. Hopefully, by spreading our own land ethics in kindness, we will inspire others to be responsible stewards of our wild places.
This is an excerpt of an essay titled “Living a Land Ethic,” written by Tyler Merriam, AsRA’s Donor Outreach Associate. CLICK HERE to access the full essay on AsRA’s website. Tyler is a Leave No Trace Master Educator and Licensed New York State Guide. Story adapted from Ausable River Association’s 2020 Fall/Winter Newsletter, “Voice of the River.” Photo courtesy of Brandon Wiltse.