Clean Trails is looking for volunteers

Clean Trails is looking for volunteers who share our passion to keep our public trails free of litter! We are a grassroots organization working towards building a nationwide network of trail stewards by organizing events, developing community partnerships, and educating the community. In the Denver area, Clean Trails is currently engaging university students in volunteer clean-ups and hosting awareness events to spread our message.

We are looking to grow our committee to help us build a model to replicate across the country. The committee meets once a month for at least an hour and contributes additional time to specific tasks which may include:

  • Event planning

  • Relationship development

  • Volunteer recruitment and management

  • GIS mapping

  • Public relations

  • Fundraising

If you have an interest in our mission, contact us to see how you can help drive the success of this growing organization as a committee member. All skill sets are welcome!

Unplug to Recharge

With the pace of today’s workaday world, we need to take time out so that we don’t burn out. Some of us do that by kicking back and putting our feet up; others do it by heading out and picking our feet up—one at a time with a hike.

This past weekend, my wife, five-year-old son, and I went camping on Palomar Mountain. While it is always nice to get away from work, it is especially pleasant to get away from the hustle and bustle that defines our normal lives. They call it civilization; but, it isn’t always civilized. Luckily, our phone service is not strong enough to reach the area; so, technology was not coming with us—a very welcomed and obvious omission.

The crisp air of fall was beckoning. Leaving the city midafternoon provided us with an opportunity to get camp set up early enough so that we could take a stroll before the sun went down. We found the trailhead for the Observatory Trail that leads from the campground to the Palomar Observatory at the top of the mile high peak. Not wanting to over-do it with the kid on the first night, we hiked about a mile until we reached what might be best described as a trailside patio-deck tucked in a clearing between the trees. The vista that it offered was unlike any other that we had experienced in Southern California. Being raised on the East Coast, my wife and I were used to valley meadows surrounded by lush green hillsides; we just hadn’t seen on since moving to California and starting our own family. The glassy ponds in the valley reflected the changing colors of the leaves. The expansive sky hinted at the blanket of stars under which we would sleep that evening.

Back at camp, the chaotic cacophony of cackling co-workers was quickly replaced with the calming combination of crickets chirping and coals crackling in the campfire. As the daylight faded to darkness, the Universe’s vastness introduced itself, star after shining star. We had picked up a nighttime sky activity book for our son at the local general store earlier in the day. With book in hand, we each learned a new constellation before we hit the sack. The promise of no morning alarm clock makes any night’s sleep more restful than it would be otherwise. A one inch foam pad is a pillow-top luxury mattress given the right circumstances; this was one of those nights.

After a breakfast of yogurt and energy bars, we set out on our hike. We were not intending to break any elevation or distance records; the point was to be outside as a family. For us, a hike is pointing out fallen trees that look like alligators, rams heads, or Cheshire Cat’s smile. We bring along an extra bag so that we can collect interesting rocks, acorns, and litter (Seriously—who throws away a Styrofoam cup on a trail? Who even takes a Styrofoam cup on a hike?!! Who hates Nature that much?).

At the top, my wife snaps a picture of my son and me as we stand next to a 5500 elevation marker to record the accomplishment. The observatory museum and gift shop is a few hundred yards away, across a parking lot that held the cars of folks that took the easy way up. In the museum, we learned a lot about how small we really are and how impressive the construction of the observatory was.   We left there to investigate the grounds as we made our way to the observatory. Being blessed with a “severe clear” day—infrequent in Southern California, in the distance we could see Mount San Jacinto towering 10,000 feet into the wide blue sky. Other areas of the property offered views of the surrounding valleys, playful clouds, and Autumn’s changes.

The stroll back down to camp was peppered with a few more acorn-gathering sessions. From the deepest of purples to the most brilliant greens, the acorns mirrored the color palette of the leaves that covered the forest floor as well as those that still clung to branches overhead.

Another night under the canopy of constellations further eased away any tensions from the work week. My foam pad was a king-sized feather bed that night. The next morning, I awoke feeling like Rip Van Winkle after his twenty-year sleep.  Begrudgingly, we packed up the car in preparation for our return to undesirable normalcy. A few more acorns–all dressed in their oaken berets–were gathered so that our son could take some to school for his classroom.  Finally, the key turned the ignition and the sound of the engine reminded us that the weekend was soon to be over. Refreshed and invigorated, we were ready to face what the upcoming week had to offer.

As soon as the Winter weather breaks, we are heading back up!

Sometimes, you have to unplug in order to recharge.

                                                                                         Verbosely yours,

Ye Olde Wordsmythe

Entertainment Giant LIONSGATE Partners with Clean Trails

Clean Trails continues to gain momentum in partnerships, volunteers, and opportunites to spread our message to everyone who enjoys the outdoors.  LIONSHARES, the philanthropic arm of LIONSGATE the entertainment giant that has brought us block buster movies like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and award-winning TV like Mad Men is just the latest.

As stated on their website: "LIONSHARES is a volunteer program that seeks to provide opportunities for employees within the Lionsgate family to partner with a diverse range of charitable organizations.  The program not only enriches the Lionsgate work experience through cultural and educational outreach, but also positively interacts and invests in the local and global community."

Clean Trails is in good company!

"Since its founding in August 2012, LIONSHARES has formed corporate partnerships with the Special Olympics and International Medical Corp.  A few notable events include: Special Olympics Pier del Sol: Stars 'n Stripes on the Pier, Special Olympics Summer Games in Long Beach, as well as raising over $40,000 for International Medical Corp by partnering with The Impossible.  LIONSHARES also works closely with other organizations, including the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, My Friend’s Place, The United Friends of the Children, and Westside Food Bank."

Lionsgate TV Contract Administrator, Elizabeth Rhee had been interested in organizing a trash clean up at a local park in her Sherman Oaks CA neighborhood and was referred to us by Lisa Barbato, LIONSHARES volunteer committee chairperson.  Elizabeth contacted us with a simple request:  "I would like to partner with an organization that would be able to provide materials and know-how, so that if I gather a large group of volunteers we may be able to make a big impact cleaning up one of the neighborhood parks where my kids play."

The satisfaction is often in the journey…

We took Elizabeth's request to heart and ventured off the trail to the Sherman Oaks, Van Nuys Park.  Normally, we focus our efforts on trail systems, this was both our first venture in a park and our first corporate social responsibility project.  Putting together a successful Clean Trails event takes some elbow grease to implement, but the work is just part of the satisfaction.  It took some effort to coordinate with the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation District. The park is already well-maintained and they had strict rules around when the cleanup could be performed, ensuring that park personnel were on hand during the event, and even requirements around the ratio of children to adults performing the cleanup.  But it was well worth the effort. 

We were surprised by the outcome!

True to Elizabeth's goal of making a big impact in her local park, she assembled over 30 adults and children that collected an estimated 25,000 small pieces of litter.  Enough to fill a 55 gallon drum! The kids loved helping, they treated the event like an easter egg hunt, challenging one another over who could find the most litter.  As mentioned, this was in a well-managed park, but it attests to an eye for detail. So often and unless you are looking, you just don't notice the litter, it blends in to the surroundings.  But, we've learned that areas that are littered become more littered, while areas that are litter-free tend to remain that way. It's all part of the social norms to which we subconsiously adhere. So, the more natural the area is, the more natural it remains.

You too can organize an event with your business, church, scouting troop, sports team, or nonprofit organization.  Contact Us to learn how and join us!

Sometimes I Feel Like an Astronaut

Notes from the Colorado Trail, submitted by Lane Early

I write from the Gunnison Public Library and I'm eager to get some ice cream and hit the trail. Town is always a welcome and exciting respite, but it's a great feeling once you are resupplied and back to hiking in the mountains. I sit at mile 302 of 485, and this will be one of my last entries, as I will resupply only once more before I arrive in Durango.

The trail has been awesome!.

The trail condition and maintenance are unrivaled as far as I've seen. It's all smooth, wide packed dirt, and the long climbs get you to some of the most beautiful vistas in world. As I continue to hike into the more remote sections of the trail, trash seems to have become less of an issue. I definitely still see it all the time and everywhere, just not as much. I think there is much more individual responsibility to do the right thing when there are less people around, because there is no one to pick up after you.

Last week at the end of a long day, I came across a group of Colorado Trail volunteers who were building some water diversions on the trail. Work was done for the day and everyone was hanging around, talking about all things outdoorsy, and waiting for dinner. The head honcho was a man named Bill and he invited me and another hiker to an excellent dinner of pork'n'beans, rice, salad, and cake. There were around 12 other volunteers from all over the country who were all excited to lend a hand. It's nice to know that there are people like this. If it weren't for the help of strangers, volunteers, and the services in the small, mountain tows along the way, long-distance hiking would not be possible.

Some random thoughts:

Sometimes I feel like an astronaut out here due to my slow, controlled movements, Vader-esque breathing and big floppy Croc moon boots.

The Aspen groves out here are amazing. The effects of walking through a grove are mesmerizing; the gaps between the tall, skinny white trunks are filled with more trunks, and between those trunks are even more, and so on into infinity. You can peer through the grove as far as the eye can see but at the same time you are trapped inside of it. It's almost like walking through a house of mirrors. A grove of Aspen trees is really just one large colony of trees. The root system of the colony outlasts any individual tree and the colony system can live for thousands of years.

No amount of money, sex, or power…

can acquire the feeling of a cool breeze coming over the ridgeline after a long climb. None of the Caesars, Pharaohs or Kings that have ever reigned could understand the pleasure of taking your pack off, sitting on a rock and drinking cold spring water unless they earned it through hard work and some sweat.

That's it for now. Look for another update in a week or so, and then I'll be in the final stretch.

We come from the land of ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
Hammer of the Gods will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, singing and crying:
Valhalla, I am coming!

Why You Shouldn’t Leave Food on the Trail

Most people know that litter is bad for wildlife. We've all seen heart-wrenching photos of a chipmunk being strangled by a plastic soda can holder or a deer struggling with a bag over its head. But some trail users don't realize that leaving food on the trail is bad for the critters too; in fact, some people leave food on the trail on purpose, believing they're helping to feed hungry animals. Here are some of the reasons why human food is bad for wildlife:

  1. A young animal that gets accustomed to being fed will not develop the foraging skills it needs to survive on its own.
  2. Human food typically will not meet the nutritional needs of the animal, so relying on it is bad for the animal's health.  Eating what nature intended them to eat is the best way for wildlife to stay nourished.  This extends to the predator cycle as well; if a bald eagle eats an underweight duck that has been badly nourished on a diet of Wonderbread, it will affect the eagle's health too.
  3. Being fed attracts wildlife outside of their natural habitat and may result in them losing their fear of humans and becoming a danger to us, and thus in peril themselves. For example, a mountain lion or bear that learns to venture into populated areas in search of human food may eventually harm a human or damage property, and then people will start demanding that it be killed.
  4. Nature has its own way of keeping a balance between available food and the wildlife population.  When animals are fed they may reproduce at a higher rate than the environment can support.
  5. If a large number of animals congregate in a spot where they expect to get fed, there is more opportunity for disease to spread amongst the population.

The bottom line is that next time you're thinking of throwing that apple core or half-eaten granola bar on the trail, think twice!  You will not be doing our furry and feathered friends any favors.

Want to help make a difference to our wildlife as well as to our own outdoor experience?  Join us!  Our goal at Clean Trails is to keep our trails litter-free and we need your help to do it.  We're a simple group with simple rules, so it's pretty easy to join.  All we need is your email address so we can keep in touch and the name and location of your favorite trail.  We'll put you on our list and send you some tips on how to help us in our mission.

Fun with Clean Trails

About once a month we show up at a local trailhead to help spread the word about what we’re doing.  We set up a couple of tables and a sign and our capable volunteers man the station for a few hours in the morning and talk to hikers as they head up the trail.

Do you like clean trails?" we ask. Or, in some cases, "Do you like dirty trails?" Because when you put it like that, people are pretty clear about what they want.  Simple, easy, and fun!  

An estimated 80% of the folks we talk to are willing to grab a bag and help us pick up trash.  Many of them also want to volunteer for our Adopt a Trail program, sign up for our monthly newsletter, or help us with future events.  Two weeks ago at the Iron Mountain trailhead in the city of Poway, we made contact with about 150 hikers who were interested in joining the cause. 

Helping to clean up our trails is an easy sell because after all, who wants to see litter spoiling a beautiful wilderness area?  But it’s also because of our fun quotient.  We laugh, we joke, spin yarns, tell tall stories, and most importantly, we remember why we’re out on the trail in the first place: because it feels good.  Clean Trails is about enjoying the wilderness, the trail, the sunshine and fresh air, and the company of the people we explore it with.

We have a pretty simple ethos: What if every hiker picked up just one piece of litter?  We respect the quality of life that comes from personal connections with untrammeled, wild places so our work is pretty simple too.  We strive to keep all the trails that lead to our wild places litter-free.  Our goal is to promote harmony with the land in a positive and open-minded manner. You see, we're not tree-huggers and we're not cops, just responsible citizens with one singe aim: Clean Trails… everywhere!

In the Spotlight – Lane, Lindsay & The Colorado Trail

Lane and Lindsay are two Clean Trails volunteers hiking the Colorado Trail. They plan to provide us research on its condition, pick up along the way, encourage others they see to do the same, and most importantly to enjoy the splendor of the trail.  They'll be blogging for us as they have the opportunity, here's their first entry…

We hike in Crocs…

I'm Lane (Bearhat in a former life) and I'm Lindsay (trail name to be determined). We are a late-20s-something couple from Florida who just moved to Denver, Colorado. Lane thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in summer 2012 in only 118 days; this will be Lindsay’s first long-distance hike.

When Lindsay and I moved to Colorado, we began searching for “the perfect job”. I was looking to get involved in the outdoor industry, but I wasn’t really sure what I meant by that. I didn’t know which type of company to pursue or which jobs to apply for. I’m still not sure. But in my search I came across CleanTrails and got in contact with the creators. CleanTrails is a volunteer organization with the mission to make all recreational trails cleaner through coordinated efforts, individual responsibility and through spreading the idea, the “movement”, to maintain clean trails for the enjoyment of everyone who loves the outdoors.

Don’t assume that we're being sponsored by CleanTrails in any way; we are sharing this on our own accord. This hike is an entirely selfish endeavor, attempted due to our own desire for the pain/pleasure that comes with existing in nature and hiking through mountains. But in an effort to slightly justify this irresponsible behavior that is escaping the mainstream and running around like a couple of damn banshees in the Colorado backcountry, if we can help CleanTrails spread their word and help protect the solitude and purity of an escape to nature, we’ll feel more like prophets than just part of the riffraff. We like that it’s a very simple idea: cleaner trails make nature more enjoyable. Leave no trace, clean up after ourselves, and help clean up after the uninformed.

"Once in towns, I plan on eating fresh produce (apples, GREENS, avocados!), but maybe I’ll be ravenous and smash some pizza with Bearhat."

I (Lindsay) follow a pretty strict, healthy, “pescetarian,” and “clean” diet. So, the first thought I had before this trip was, how would I continue eating this way on the trail? I rarely eat processed food and a restaurant meal is a treat. I used to be a strict vegan, but discovered through trial-and-error, that it was not the diet for me. My diet makes me feel good. I want to hike feeling good, right? So, I’m going to do the best I can to continue eating this way, though I know the nature of hiking means I’ll make some concessions for the sake of convenience and light-weight.  As a result, I've spent a fair amount of time working on my trail menu, more on that later.

"You mean I struggled up every mountain on the east coast while the camp chair (Multi-tool, extra bowl, poo shovel, extra stakes, 75₵, etc.) got a free ride on my back?"

(Lane here) prior to hiking the Appalachian Trail, the longest camping trip I’d been on was five days. On shorter trips, you don’t fully appreciate the need for a lightweight pack. Hiking isn’t your life; this is a vacation and you want to enjoy it and if your pack weighs too much that’s alright, because you’ll be at your car in three days. But once you cross that line into long-distance hiking, hiking becomes your life. You are a professional walker and your job is to follow this path, wherever it may lead, until you find what you’re looking for. This is when a lightweight pack becomes a very good thing. We've done everything we can to lighten the load.

Oh yeah, we hike in Crocs, get over it!

They are the ultimate long-distance hiking shoe. The roomy interior allows the foot to spread out and the toes to grip. Very sticky rubber, 17.8 ounces for the pair, waterproof and a sole made of fluffy clouds. Give the feet what they want. The only problem was that the open back allows twigs and pebbles in, which means you either try to ignore it or stop and empty it out. Not anymore. I took it to another level and attached a pair of gaiters to the Crocs. ‘Who is that super hip hiker with the sunhat and the Crocs? Oh, that’s just Bearhat.’

Look for more from Lane and Lindsay as they continue down the trail

In the Beginning…

Like many of the best ideas, Clean Trails was more of a slow trickle than a sudden thunderclap.  Steve Jewett was always an avid hiker and climber, and gradually he became aware of the trash problem on his favorite trails in the San Diego area.  He and Bill Willoughby began to pick up trash on their hikes together, at first just picking up what they could fit in their pockets and later carrying trash bags with them.  There was still the problem of trash they didn’t want to touch with their bare hands, so one day Steve started carrying a set of barbecue tongs.  Other recreationalists on the trail noticed, and after they stopped laughing many of them said thank you. 

Steve and Bill realized they were having fun, so they began to brainstorm.  How could they make a wider impact on the problem?  The basic ethic was already in place and effectively communicated by the Leave No Trace organization.  How could they help operationalize the principles of Leave No Trace?

As a self-described serial entrepreneur, Steve tended to think in domain names.  He went home one day in 2010 and searched the internet for key words, finally hitting on the perfect name: Clean Trails.  The domain name was already taken, but Steve waited patiently for it to expire so he could buy it. Bill, also an entrepreneur, designed a logo and put together a basic business structure for the organization. 

The next task was to come up with tools for people to use.  Steve tested different types of tongs, looking for something small, lightweight and perhaps a bit less ridiculous-looking than barbecue tongs.  Walking by the dog waste bags at trailheads, he also thought about having “people bags.”  He approached Bob Hahn of the city of Poway and asked if he might use the existing dog bag box at the Iron Mountain trailhead, and Bob loved the idea.  Bill designed a trailhead box, and the first one was installed in 2013. 

Our trails get littered in many ways; sometimes by the unknowledgeable, sometimes by the uncaring, and sometimes by the careless.  Most folks want their trails to look as pristine as Mother Nature intended.  But it takes a little effort and so we need your help.  Won't you roll up your sleeves and exert a little elbow grease on your next hike? All we ask is that you pick up just one piece of litter. You'll be pleasantly surprised how good it makes you feel and you just might inspire someone else to do the same.

If you like the result, perhaps you'll consider joining us. We're a simple group with simple rules, so it's pretty easy to become an official member.  All we need is your email address so we can keep in touch, and the name and location of your favorite trail.  We'll put you on our list and send you a membership certificate. You'll gain the satisfaction of helping to take care of a place you love, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll have fun doing it.

We’re trying to start a movement, so if you could "Like" us on your social media of choice, that would be great! After all, what's not to "Like" about Clean Trails?