What Will it Take to Keep New Hampshire Beautiful?

Leave No Trace and #TrashTag Challenge Breathe New Life into Effort to Combat Litter

May 3, 2019
  Volunteers take a break to pose for a photo on the summit of Mount Major.

Volunteers take a break to pose for a photo on the summit of Mount Major. All photos by Emily Lord.

“Keep America Beautiful.” “Give a Hoot: Don’t Pollute.” “Pack it In, Pack it Out.” “Please Don’t Litter: Help Keep Your Community Clean.” “Leave No Trace.”

For decades, environmentalists and public service agencies have attempted various slogans and campaigns to teach people about the harm litter causes wildlife, water, and our environment and to ask more people to take personal responsibility.

During the 1990s — or the “back in the 1900s,” according to some younger than I — I was infuriated by the chronic litter issues I saw on roadsides, beaches, and trails. You might say we’ve come a long way since the 1960s, or even the ’90s when I remember picking up trash in the neighborhood for my first Earth Day celebration. I’ve participated in countless clean-up efforts in the past two decades.

I’ve got news: Litter persists.

  Volunteer Bill Young of Alton has been hiking Mount Major since he was a teenager. Last weekend was his first time at the annual clean up event.
Last week I helped pick up trash with volunteers on Mount Major’s trails in Alton in celebration of Earth Day 2019. After a long winter, receding snow revealed piles of bottles, cans, cigarette butts, dog poop, gear, toys, wrappers, and countless other forgotten items.

More than 30 volunteers traveled from Alton, New Durham, Manchester, Portsmouth, Somersworth, Stoddard, and elsewhere to help clean up trash and enjoy a day hike. Mother Nature thanked our volunteers by lifting the morning fog just in time to see New Hampshire’s largest lake shimmering blue on the first day of “ice out,” signifying spring.

The annual clean-up is a collaborative effort to continue stewardship of the conservation properties on the slopes of Mount Major and the Quarry Mountains. In 2012, the Forest Society, the Lakes Region Conservation Trust, and the Belknap Range Conservation Coalition worked together to purchase 961 acres in four separate parcels in Alton and Gilford. But the work to acquire this land was just the first step, as ongoing stewardship is crucial in maintaining Mount Major as a place of recreation as well as wildlife habitat and watershed conservation.

Before hitting the trail, Forest Society Land Steward Program Coordinator Andy Crowley emphasized the value of volunteers’ efforts. “Your help today is what is needed to save this special place and to allow it to be a source of joy, habitat, and clean water, not just for us, but for generations to come.”

A pile of litter and trash that volunteers picked up from the Mt Major parking lot, trails and summit area.
Land Steward Program Coordinator Andy Crowley shows off the pile of litter and trash that volunteers picked up from the parking lot, trails and summit area.

Over the course of the day, some volunteers lamented how some people who use the trails could still think it’s OK to litter and let other people pick up after them. “It’s really eye-opening for participants to see just how much trash is collected,” said Dave Anderson, senior director of education for the Forest Society.

The thing is, people don’t know what they don’t know. Until now, well-intentioned people like me have done the dirty work for others who don’t know or don’t care. One unintended consequence could be that by picking up litter, we’ve erased the problem from view.

Recyclables are a common trash item at recreation areas like Mt. Major.
Recyclables are a common litter item at recreation areas like Mt. Major.

When will we humans finally clean up our act? One effort that gives me hope is the #TrashTag Challenge that is taking over social media worldwide. Countless people have seen and shared #TrashTag because they saw someone else do it. Try Googling “TrashTag challenge” and you’ll see people around the world who clean up open space and post before-and-after photos.

This revived effort gives me hope because people are persuading other people to pick up trash and tell more people about it. We’re not silently bringing it to the dump anymore. Maybe, just maybe, this type of campaign could bring about worldwide education. It’s not the only way, though.

Portsmouth High School students volunteered on Mt Major for Earth Day to fulfull community service hours
Portsmouth High School students volunteered on Mt Major for Earth Day to fulfull community service hours.
With more than 80,000 people hiking Mount Major every year, the popular hiking spot has seen its share of excessive trash, damage to vegetation, trail erosion, disturbance to wildlife, and more. As a result, Mount Major was chosen as one of 19 Hot Spots nationwide to be the focus of training from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

As a designated Hot Spot, Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers will teach Forest Society staff, partners and volunteers in how to communicate the principals of Leave No Trace to the public. The trainings and several other outreach and public service events will take place during a “Hotspot Activation Week” from June 17-24. The goal of this week is to help educate hikers about how to reduce the impact on the environment while enjoying the amazing natural beauty of Mount Major.

The principles of Leave No Trace include carrying out everything you carry in to a hiking area, cleaning up after dogs, and being generally courteous to other hikers. For more information about the Leave No Trace Hot Spot Program, visit www.LNT.org. More information about the Hotspot Week at Mount Major will be available on the Forest Society’s website in mid-May at www.forestsociety.org/events.

Thanks to the generous support provided by the Meredith Village Savings Bank Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the Forest Society will also hire two trail stewards to assist with public outreach and stewardship efforts from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day. Trail stewards fulfill an essential role in making Mount Major a safe, clean, and enjoyable destination for all hikers.

Volunteers at Mt Major Trailhead prepare for the annual Earth Day Spring Clean Up
Volunteers gather at the Mt. Major trailhead for the annual Earth Day Spring Clean Up.

See more photos from Earth Day on Facebook here.

Emily Lord manages the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests’ online and social media presence. Forest Journal runs every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Reach Emily at elord@forestsociety.org or @forestsociety on Instagram/Facebook.