Cleaning up Dog Poop on Trails: Why It’s Important for 14ers

If you’ve hiked a 14er in summer, you’ve probably seen if for yourself: dozens of bags of dog poop lying besides the trail, as if waiting for someone to come collect them. There’s often just as much unbagged poop around as well. While many people shrug their shoulders at the sight, there are a lot of negative effects that come from the practice, especially when viewed cumulatively. Here’s a look at the impacts of not cleaning up dog poop on trails, along with my tips for making the practice easier. 

What’s Wrong with Leaving Dog Poop on Trails?

Many dog owners point out that deer, elk, bears and many other animals poop regularly in the woods and along trails. They ask why it’s okay for them, but not their own dogs to do so. There are multiple problems and impacts, some visual, others chemical and health-related. Here are the three biggest reasons that cleaning up dog poop on trails is important.

First, dog poop leaves a trace that others have been on the trail, destroying the perspective that the area is untrampled by others, a central proponent of wilderness ethics. This is especially important for high-traffic areas, where dozens of dogs visit each day, and dog poop can pile up quickly on the trail. This is an eyesore for all those who come after you. Help keep the mountains pristine and avoid leaving your bag of poop behind, even if you plan to get it later.

Cleaning up dog poop on trails

Second and more important, dog poop is a health hazard that can threaten water supplies that local communities and wildlife depend on. Dog poop contains numerous types of viruses and bacteria that can work its ways into creeks, or directly into the groundwater. Many mountain creeks lead directly to reservoirs, and serve local mountain towns. Help protect their water by bagging and cleaning up dog poop on trails.

Third, dog waste introduces excess nutrients to alpine soils, throwing ecosystems out of balance. The food eaten by wildlife is very low in nutrient levels, and reflect thousand-year old patterns established slowly in ecosystems. Dog poop is rich in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphate, which can cause imbalances similar to an algae bloom in water responding to fertilizer runoff. This can exacerbate erosion by leaving slopes bare of growth following a bloom. Protect these mountains by cleaning up dog poop on trails.

Why Do So Many People Leave Poop Bags Behind?

To start, most people who bag dog poop and set it down don’t do so with bad intentions. People intend to grab them on their way back, but forget as they’re busy thinking about the burger they’re going to get on their drive home. As others see the poop bags on the side of the trail, something happens – they get the idea that leaving their bagged poop behind is socially acceptable, and a new social norm is created as more and more people leave behind their bags.

This is even worse for the environment than leaving the poop behind itself. If dog bags are not removed quickly, they often decompose following the cold, snowy winter, spreading small bits of plastic throughout the area and soil – in addition to the impact of the dog poop itself. In this way, good intentions make the problem even worse. Here are my tips for making cleaning up dog poop on trails as easy and quick as possible.

Tips for Cleaning Up Dog Poop On Trails

First – Bag your poop and don’t leave it to grab later. Too often you forget – and even if you don’t, everyone following you will still have to stare at your dog’s poop. Be sure to bag it, and bring it with you for the rest of your trip. If you aren’t willing to do that – consider leaving your dog at home. 

To make this easier, I recommend buying a vest bag for your dog so you can stow it with them to pack out themselves. They won’t care about the smell like you might. If the smell really bothers you, purchase a scent-proof bag that helps neutralize the smell, so you can focus on the hike and not about your dog.

Second – for those truly committed to keeping the outdoors pristine, if you are able/willing, pack out other bags of dog poop you come across along the trail. While it shouldn’t be your job, helping in this way prevents social norms from forming, encouraging others to do the same by signaling it’s okay to leave bagged poop.

Cleaning Up Dog Poop on Trails: Now You Know!

With the right dedication, it is easy to bring your dog along with you on a 14er without affecting the environment. Cleaning up dog poop on trails is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your dog’s environmental impact on the 14ers. Be sure you check the other regulations for the area you are visiting, as they may require leashes or ban dogs from certain trails or areas at some times of the year. Safe travels on the trail!

Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit

Alex is an Eagle Scout and mountaineer living in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. You can subscribe to his Next Summit Newsletter here.

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