Five Great Ways to Give Back to the Outdoors

Posted 09/12/17 by Suzanne Matyas in Trail Use, America's Trails, Taking Action, Health and Wellness

Volunteer on Anza Trail | Photo courtesy National Park Service

In so many ways, trails have the power to connect us and make us stronger—as individuals and as a community. But they depend on you, the walkers, riders, skiers and skaters, to do so! Trail lovers and volunteers are the backbone of trails nationwide; their tireless efforts are what fuel the trail movement, and keep it advancing forward. 

And although there is never a bad time to pitch in, with Make a Difference Day—an annual celebration of volunteerism and good deeds—right around the corner on Saturday, Oct. 28, we’re asking everyone to join us in making a difference for trails! 

There are countless ways to give back, but the first, most important step is making the commitment to do good. Please pledge to make a difference for trails, then check out these great ideas for inspiration:

Will you pledge to make a difference for trails?

Yes, count me in!

1Get out there

Exploring the trail with a loved one is a great way to spend time together | Photo courtesy USDA Forest Service

Everyone has heard the familiar proverb that “80 percent of life is showing up,” and when it comes to making a difference for trails, it’s absolutely true. Showing up on the trail for a leisurely stroll may not seem like much, but this simple act can encourage others to join in on the fun, too. Your actions—even if indirectly—may inspire additional runs, rides and healthier, more active lifestyles for people you may never know. You can even turn your solo stroll into a joint activity, and help those with limited mobility access and enjoy the trail! And more trail users equates to more trail supporters—and that support can take the form of trail advocacy, beautification, data collection and more.

Added bonus: tons of trails track usership, and these counts (which you can usually volunteer to help conduct!) can play a crucial role in securing funding. Who knows? You may be the cyclist who tips the scales to enhance or build new trails!

2Join in

Team RTC having fun making a difference during our Capital Crescent Trail cleanup | Photo courtesy Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Searching for a cure, protecting wildlife, raising awareness, bridging divides or building a trail: there are so many wonderful and important causes in the world. Thankfully, no matter the need, there is always a compassionate, courageous legion of do-gooders who are ready to answer the call—and when the call takes the shape of a 5K, cross-country bike ride or relay, trails are also ready. Trails often serve to host these events and, in doing so, connect us with these close-to-the-heart causes and the communities they bring together. When you join in to show your solidarity and support for a great cause on the trail, you are making a difference.

To help connect people with their causes and their trails, we’ve started sharing these types of events on TrailLink, RTC’s free trail-finder website. Take a look to see if any events are happening on a trail near you.

3Make a plan

Veterans Day run on the Metropolitan Branch Trail | Photo courtesy Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

More of a planner than a joiner? Organizing your own volunteer or charity event is an amazing way to give back! No, you don’t need to orchestrate an entire march to make a positive change (but that’s awesome, too!), your good deed could be gathering a few pals and heading to the trail to pick up litter. Or, if you’re looking for something in the middle, creating a community walking group that helps support the trails you tread and encourages healthy habits is another great option. It may be a bit more involved, but starting something like a group walking series is an influential way to give back to the trails you love, because it offers the same opportunity to others—magnifying your total impact!

If you’re interested in hosting an event on your local trail, TrailLink is also a terrific tool for spreading the word and getting organized.

4Speak up

Supporters of the Rock Island Trail rallied at the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri | Photo by Brandi Horton

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” is another old saying that applies to giving back to trails—although, we would amend this to an experience on the trail is worth a supporting voice. Trails cannot speak for themselves, but they do provide the experiences that enable us to verbally paint the picture of why they’re important when advocating on their behalf. Whenever trails, biking, walking or active transportation are at risk or have an opportunity to flourish, speaking up is one of the easiest and most effective ways you make a difference.

A single trail can help reduce pollution and healthcare costs, boost local economies and connect our neighborhoods. Spreading the message that trails are wise investments to friends, family and elected officials can help ensure they have a place in our infrastructure for years to come. Take two minutes to add your voice to the movement.

5Be a trail steward

TLC + LNT= a winning formula for making a difference for trails. What do they stand for? “Tender Loving Care” and "Leave No Trace," two fundamental tenets of trail stewardship. In order for the trails we know and love to continue being the trails we know and love, they need maintenance and caregivers. By keeping your trash off the trail and being respectful of nature, you're following core principles of Leave No Trace and are already being a good steward—thank you, and please pass it on! And when everyone is considerate and contributes, both the trails and their future users benefit.

If you want to take a more active role in your favorite trail's care, you can help by disposing of waste on the trail, removing invasive species, monitoring water (if near any) and air quality, assisting with any sanctioned installations and markings, recording wildlife observations or join in many more types of activities.

Ready to make a difference for trails? Before you get out there, don’t forget to join us in committing to give back!

Pledge to make a difference for trails

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