On October 2nd I packed up the NOS truck and headed to Zion National Park for a Leave No trace Master Educator Course. The Course began On October 3rd, and ended on the 6th giving us four full days to learn and explore in the park. During our time at Zion we did many of the most popular hikes including Watchman Trail, Observation Point, we hiked up the Narrows, and Angels Landing. Zion was in interesting place to host a Leave No trace Course, because in recent years, it has experienced a significant increase in visitors, which inevitably leads to some level of increased human impact. Knowing this going into the course, I was interested to see what sort of shape the trails and park were in.
Without question, Zion is dealing with some negative impacts. I noticed quite a bit of food scarps such as banana and orange peels left on the trail, but was surprised that I did not see many plastic water bottles left behind. Many people leave natural food scraps such as banana and orange peels, because the think that they will biodegrade within a reasonable amount of time. However, the reality is that those items can take years to decompose, especially in dry desert environments like Zion. This can be problematic, because it will draw wildlife to areas that are heavily trafficked by people ultimately associating people with food. A classic example of this, which I think most people have experienced, are the food aggressive rodents. All wild animals, including chipmunks and squirrels should have a healthy fear of humans, but in many popular areas, like our national parks, they have become so used to people leaving out food, or even feeding them, that they will come right up to us and even try to chew through our bags to get access to our snacks. This was certainly the case in Zion.
The other major thing that I noticed was social trails, or visitor made paths caused by off trail travel. This was especially evident in the Narrows. While hiking the narrows, there are few places in which you can step out of the river to enjoy a lunch or snack break. Unfortunately, some of the areas that many people think would be a great place to stop for a break are delicate riparian zones, and should not experience foot traffic. The parks does a good job of marking these areas with educational signage, which pleads with visitors to stay out of the vegetation, but many disregard the signs and travel through the vegetation anyways.