Trashing our National Parks and Public Lands

Got your attention with that title, didn’t we?  One might think this is about alcohol consumption but well…keep reading. It’s about the dirty habits that people seem to have bestowed upon our National Parks and other sites.

For you elder readers, do you remember the television commercial that showed the Native American standing alongside the highway while a passenger of a car zooms by throwing trash out the window that lands on his feet?

The camera zoomed in on a tear rolling down his cheek and sadness in his eyes.  It was also shown as a billboard across the Nation.  It originally aired in the early 70’s.

I think we need to start showing that commercial again because people seemingly, haven’t gotten the memo that this big blue marble we live on isn’t just ours.

We have been to some spectacular places in our travels and among our favorites are our National Parks, monuments, historical Sites, hiking trails, etc.  They truly are beautiful treasures however, we’ve noticed an influx of careless behavior and dirty habits from visitors that affects the ecosystems, habitats and beauty.  Due to the 100th Anniversary of our National Parks, as population grew, so did the trash…in the cans and sadly, on the ground and places that shouldn’t.
Candy wrapper that must have fallen out of someone’s pocket
We realize some of these are non-intentional; a dirty tissue that falls out of one’s pocket, an empty plastic shopping bag that blows out of an opened car door or the wind carries an empty chip bag faster than Superman could fly.  We get it…it happens.  But really, if we properly stowed our trash and were more mindful of the trails we leave behind,m ost likely these words wouldn’t be written.




But what doesn’t happen ‘accidentally’ are the empty smashed water bottles and cans, broken glass bottles, bottle caps, pop tops and dirty diapers that are purposely thrown or placed there.

We’ve seen picnic tables with trash left on, beside or under them; chip bags folded and wedged into trees, cigarette butts still smoldering on the side of the trails or roadway, etc.  We could go on but I’m sure you get the picture (like the one’s shown in this article).

Cigarette users are some of the worst offenders. Learn how to field strip them and put them in your pockets when you’re finished.
Having served in the Coast Guard, we’ve seen even the smallest of waste become detrimental health hazards to our waterways, wildlife and ecosystems.  Pollution response is serious business and a very costly.


Animals are curiously attracted to shiny or odd looking things and trash ends up in storm drains, dams, waterways and on the beaches or water’s edge. Wildlife simply does not know that these are dirty, toxic and life threatening as they pick them up to eat, wrestle with or step in.
We ALL can stop this though.


It takes each of us to police ourselves, be mindful that the world isn’t just ‘ours’ and to bring awareness to the forefront. If someone drops their cellphone, we wouldn’t hesitate to tell them.  Why do we not do the same when someone throws the cigarette butt or candy wrapper on the ground?


Show your children what good stewardship is about; keeping our planet clean.  Oh, and Mom and Dad, tell your kids to pick up after themselves. If they learn early, they will teach their own children years from now.

How can we help?

Opt for Online:  Yes, paper maps are a national parks staple. But in our world of modern technology and ubiquitous smartphones, op for an app, that provides the same information – they’re out there. And even without cell service, some national park apps will give helpful information about where you can spot wildlife or catch a beautiful sunset.

Mug for the Parks:  Bring a reusable coffee mug from home or buy one from the souvenir shop to help reduce the 58 billion dirty paper cups are sent to America’s landfills every year.

BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle):  Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. Keep a refillable water bottle on hand or buy one at gift shop, while taking advantage of refilling stations around the park. Oh and water is free at the water fountains anyways!

Ditch the Plastic Bag: Help reduce waste by not taking a plastic bag when buying souvenirs or groceries that you bring into the parks. Instead, bring your own reusable bag or tote for your items to help eliminate plastic bag waste. Plastic is not easily biodegradable.

Take Out What You Bring In: Think about what you bring in. Check to see if it can be recycled or composted in the park you are visiting. If it cannot be recycled, take it home or find a recycling receptacle.


The point of our blog article is awareness.  We all need to step up to the plate and clean up our act.  We were given one planet.  There are no second helpings.  Let’s be good stewards and examples to our children and our children’s children.

If you’re going to leave anything, leave only these.

If you enjoyed this blog, you can visit…

32 Tips for an Amazing National Park Experience



2 Replies to “Trashing our National Parks and Public Lands”

    1. Thank you Martha! We all have to put in our contributions in keeping our planet clean and safe for all who inhabit it. The thing that many forget is we humans aren’t the only ones living on it. Be safe out there and thank YOU for contributing.

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