Clean Up Our Trails: The Why and How

Like our own health, our environment needs to be taken care of to thrive. As we head outside, we think about all the things we have to be thankful for, like sunshine to bask in, trails to hike, and trees to climb.

So, twice a year, Snowshoe Magazine celebrates our natural lands by cleaning up our favorite outdoor spaces, and we would love for you to join us!

In September, we partake in National CleanUp Day, an initiative by Clean Trails to draw attention to finding a solution for litter. In April, we contribute to Earth Day. Since 1970, Earth Day has represented our environment and served as a reminder of the importance of caring for and supporting the place we call home.

As we’ve become passionate about this topic, we encourage you to give back to our natural lands by cleaning up your local area this season.

Our local areas need to be taken care of to thrive! Photo: Susan Wowk

But why trash pick up?

There are many ways to take care of our Earth, but why should we pick up trash? Before we launched clean-up initiatives, I admit that I was skeptical too. But did you know that nearly 50 billion pieces of litter sit along U.S roads and waterways? That amounts to over 150 items for each U.S resident! These statistics were part of the largest litter study in the U.S conducted by Keep America Beautiful (KAB) in 2021.

The first time I embarked on trash pick-up, I wasn’t sure what I would find. Could there really be that much trash in my favorite natural areas? Yes, there can. Three full trash bags of litter included plastic cups and bottles, beer cans, discarded parts, cigarette butts, pieces of torn clothing, and even an abandoned stuffed animal.  According to the KAB study, more than 6 million pieces of trash are more than 4 inches in size. I was astounded by the amount of waste on and off the trail, particularly near the rivers.

The most surprising part of this whole experience though was how happy I left after the clean-up. A warm fuzzy feeling emerges when you make a positive effort to keep the Earth and your local areas clean. Did the pick-up require time and effort? Yes! Did I get some strange looks walking around the trail with a trash bag? Yes! But the time and looks were worth it to see how clean the area was at the end of the day.

So, even if you feel strange about the notion of trash pick-up, I encourage you to give it a small try! Before launching out into the world with a trash bag, though, there are a few tips for success and safety to keep in mind.

woman holding trash bags near natural area sign

Even if you feel strange about trash pick up, give it a small try! You may feel good and clean the Earth! Photo: Paul Wowk

Tips to get started

If picking up trash feels overwhelming, here are a few tips to get started.

Start small

A location for trash pick-up can be in your own neighborhood! For example, take a solo walk to your local park and bring a trash bag along. Or, go hiking in your local natural area with a few friends and pick up trash while on the trail. Any tiny bit helps!

Read More: Snowshoeing in Your Own Backyard: Options Close to Home

Reach out for recommendations

If you’re having trouble choosing an area to clean up, reach out to your local city recreation department or natural resources department.

The staff at these local departments can be a wealth of information and offer recommendations of where a clean-up may be needed. They can also guide where to properly dispose of your trash if you find/pick up a large amount.

woman picking up trash next to lake

Trash pick can start small. For example, bring a trash bag with you on your next hike or bike ride. Then pick up what you find. Photo: Paul Wowk

Check for restrictions

Make sure there aren’t any restrictions for the area you want to clean. Most local neighborhoods will probably not have limitations, but it’s best to double-check. Some regional areas can also provide guidelines for safety. For example, I found this video by our city quite helpful as we got started.

Also, you may encounter some city parks and natural areas that are patrolled and not available for a public clean-up. For example, some areas near the river where we live are prone to hazardous materials and are cleaned regularly by the city. These areas near us are off-limits for public clean-ups.

Know what to bring

On your trash clean-up outing, you’ll want to bring the following items:

  • thick gloves (such as gardening gloves) or a trash collection stick for picking up trash
  • bags to collect the garbage – you may also choose to bring two colors of bags for recyclables and trash. From personal experience, it can be a pain to sort through and find recyclables after the fact 🙂
  • water and a snack

It’s also recommended to wear long pants and closed-toed shoes to avoid scrapes or plant interactions. Finally, always remember to protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen and sunglasses.

Read More: Leave No Trace: Snowshoe Responsibly

Be aware of what you pick up

Please be careful as you’re out trash hunting. Most items will most likely not be hazardous. However, if you encounter any large items, like tires, or dangerous items, like needles, do not remove them. Instead, contact your local city recreation department for guidance.

Get involved by finding a clean-up near you, grabbing some friends and family, or taking a trash bag on your next hike! Photo: Anne Carlson

How can I get involved?

Find a local clean-up event near you for National CleanUp Day or Earth Day. Or, grab some friends or family and start your own event! If an event is not your style, you can still contribute by picking up trash as you find it on your next outdoor outing.

Then, keep track of what you find, and inspire others with the Litterati app!

Let’s clean up!

We’re excited to clean up with you, and thank you for your support of our environment! Remember, any small amount of trash pick-up makes a difference. Happy cleanup!

Have you ever picked up trash in your area? Please share any other suggestions or clean-up events in the comments below!

This post was originally published on April 20, 2021, and was most recently updated on April 20, 2022.  

Read Next: Paul Smith’s College & Cornell University Unite For The Environment


  • Susan has owned Snowshoe Magazine with her husband, Paul, since 2015. In late 2018, she became involved in writing and editing content and now is the lead editor of the publication. A true winter lover and avid snowshoer, Susan looks forward to traveling to new locations and opportunities to snowshoe and break trail every season!

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