Calgary·Video

Excessive trail trash inspires Alberta hikers to organize cleanup event

A couple of mountain-loving Alberta hikers are co-ordinating volunteers to pick up trash from the province's parks and mountain trails, and even found sponsors to reward the effort with prizes.

Prizes await more than 200 volunteers who will clean up 60 mountain trails Aug. 6-10

These hikers are offering prizes to people who go out and clean up the absolute mess that is being left behind on mountain trails west of the city. 2:46

From straws and bottles to bags and tissue paper, hikers have likely noticed that Alberta's famous forests and mountain trails have started to look dishearteningly different in recent weeks.

Many are strewn with garbage, and Parks Canada representative Jed Cochrane told CBC News last month that park staff have also noted a lot more trash that is probably due to increased use and COVID-19 concerns.

Luckily, a couple of Alberta hikers are co-ordinating volunteers to pick up litter from the province's parks and mountain trails — and even have prizes donated from local businesses to reward the effort.

Sarah Kuindersma and Glen Gorrie noticed a higher volume of people hitting the trails this summer, and a corresponding increase in litter.

To keep the parks they love pristine, they organized the Kananaskis and Canmore Klean Up Event — an initiative that will send 60 volunteer cleanup crews to 60 Alberta trails from Aug. 6 to 10.

They have around 220 participants so far, and are hoping for even more. With 400 prizes donated from local businesses, they have a lot to give away.

"What's been really cool is just how many people actually want to help out with this event," Kuindersma said. "That's just been overwhelming, the support."

Tissue paper, discarded food littering trails

Avid hikers are generally very cognizant of their garbage, Gorrie and Kuindersma said.

The culprits likely make up only a small percentage of park visitors, and are probably less-experienced hikers who are disregarding the unspoken rule to clean up after themselves on the trails.

By deciding to clean up after others, Gorrie and Kuindersma are also putting that rule aside. But it's for the greater good — that of the parks.

"We have to make sure that the parks stay open, and that's our concern," Gorrie said.

Hikers Sarah Kuindersma and Glen Gorrie co-ordinated a volunteer-led initiative to clean up trails after they noticed an increase in litter. (James Young/CBC)

Gorrie said he and Kuindersma have mostly found tissue and toilet paper on the trails.

But discarded food such as orange and banana peels can also present a problem. 

These will not simply decompose. Rather, they can attract wildlife to the paths — including bears — and with very serious consequences.

"Unfortunately, it's the bear that gets put down, and it's the human that's causing the problem," Kuindersma said.

"We want to just be mindful that we are leaving no trace. This isn't our home … and unfortunately, we are leaving everything behind."

Garbage is not park staff responsibility, hiker says

Kuindersma said she doesn't mind cleaning up some garbage left behind; after all, the wind has occasionally snatched wrappers from her own hands.

But what she does find aggravating is filling bags of trash on the way up a trail — and having to do it all over again on the way back down, her work undone.

"It's just disrespectful to our beautiful parks," Kuindersma said. "It's … about morals and ethics, and I just wish that Canadians would do us proud."

As for the suggestion they sometimes hear that park staff should be the ones cleaning up, Kuindersma is firm: it's the hiker's mess.

"We're the users, we're the ones who are bringing it in," she said. "It's not the park's responsibility. It's ours."

Sarah Kuindersma picks up a poop bag on the trail. She says they have found straws, toilet and tissue paper, gum, discarded food and bottles on the trails. (James Young/CBC)

The best way to encourage people to be respectful, Kuindersma said, is to lead by example. With 220 people involved, the initiative is a big one.

And if you were looking for something to do this weekend, she has an idea.

"Please come join us," she said.

You can find out more about the Kananaskis and Canmore Klean Up Event, or register to be a volunteer, on Facebook.

With files from James Young

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