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The Burden of Irresponsibility

By Johnny Molloy

The Burden of IrresponsibilityWhile hiking the Hazel Creek Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, my partner tall John Cox and I encountered two backpackers leaving a littered backcountry campsite.

John and I exchanged glances of surprise and disgust. I bit my tongue, not wanting to lecture these two fellow backpackers who were ending an obviously rewarding backpacking venture. We bid our good-byes and hiked on.

The onus was now on us. We knew this backcountry campsite in a beautiful national park was trashed. John and I now had the obligation to clean up a mess. I was angered at having to clean up after another backpacker’s lack of consideration.

Has this happened to you? Have you ever been hiking down an impressive mountain trail only to find a foil candy wrapper along the path? Have you ever been on a camping trip only to find your site resembling a garbage-strewn alley rather than a woodland retreat?

What is our responsibility in the woods? You know the adages: leave no trace, pack it in, pack more out, take pictures, leave only footprints, etc. Nevertheless, why do we always have to  be the responsible  ones? Why do we feel the overwhelming burden to pick up after these woodland litterbugs? Why can’t we nonchalantly toss a few tin cans aside ourselves? Sometimes, I just don’t feel like playing garbage man of the woods, but then I feel remorse if I don’t clean up the mess.

This guilt trip is not what I come to the wilderness for, yet I get a dose of it every trip to the hinterlands.

And who are these litterers, anyway? Do they realize they’re shunning their responsibility and giving all hikers a bad name. Since their littering or other misdeeds become your responsibility, how far do you carry that responsibility? What if you saw someone deliberately hiding tin cans under a rock? Do you proceed to gallantly lecture someone you don’t even know how to act? This world is getting greener, but implementing wilderness ethics is a delicate issue.

My experience has been varied. At sometimes-crowded shelters along the Appalachian Trail, I’ve seen just about everything imaginable from the cutting of live wood to washing dishes in the camp spring. I’ve usually kept my mouth shut. Nowadays, I’m more apt to say something — as positively as possible — relating to them with friendly advice rather than words of anger.

Yet, in the end, after I have bent over for the umpteenth time, picking up a cigarette butt, I feel good, not in a self-righteous manner, but ripe with the realization that even though it’s dirty work, helping Mother Nature is ultimately a labor of love.

Top Trails
Great Smoky Mountains
National Park

With its secluded mountain waterways, aweinspiring views from grassy balds, diverse plant and animal life, and impressive stands of old-growth forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers an overwhelming number of outdoor adventures. Top Trails Great Smoky Mountains National Park describes both the park’s classic destinations and lesser-known jewels in 50 must-do hikes.

The trails range from an easy family stroll by a soothing stream to a 7-mile trek through spruce forest atop a peaceful ridge to a 22-mile overnighter to a mile-high camp. This guide will help you leave the roads to explore the heart of the park. Whether you’re looking for a scenic stroll to stretch your legs, a full-day adventure, or a rewarding backpacking trip, you’ll find it here.
Each hike includes:
• Clear and concise directions to the trailhead
• A detailed route map and elevation profile
• “Don’t get lost” milestones
• Expert trail commentary

Author Johnny Molloy has spent over 800 nights backpacking in the Smokies, and used his vast experience to choose the best hikes to maximize your national park experience.

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