Steps to Build a Blue Trail: Build

Manage Trash and Waste

Northern Forest Canoe Trail - Jamie MierauRegular maintenance of a campsite is a necessity. If campers arrive at a clean site, they will be more likely to leave it in the same condition. Encourage campers to pick up after earlier users if the campsite was left in less than perfect condition. Experience shows that a system of high cleanliness works remarkably well in maintaining a site and sets a positive example for future campers.

A carry-in, carry-out policy is accepted as normal by most campers and should be encouraged. Unless campsites are located in a well-maintained park that are tended to daily, trash cans are a mistake since they are quickly overloaded and become a problem rather than an asset. Minnesota has gone so far as to ban the use of cans and bottles in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe area, a major step in reducing trash accumulation.

Always a challenge is the proper disposal of human waste at campsites. Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid pollution of water sources, avoid the negative implications of someone else finding it, minimize the possibility of spreading disease, and maximize the rate of decomposition.

In most locations, burying human waste is the most effective way to meet these criteria. Solid human waste must be packed out from some places such as narrow river canyons.  Ask your land management agencies to advise you of specific rules for your area. The following are guidelines from Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

Catholes are the most widely accepted method of waste disposal. Locate catholes at least 200 feet (about 70 adult steps) from water, trails, and campsites. Select an inconspicuous site where others will be unlikely to walk or camp. With a small garden trowel, dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter. The cathole should be covered and disguised with natural materials when finished and widely dispersed when camping with a large group or in an area for several nights.

Latrines may be better options when camping with young children or if staying in one camp for longer than a few nights. Use similar criteria for selecting a latrine location as those used to locate a cathole. Since this higher concentration of waste will decompose very slowly, location is especially important. A good way to speed decomposition and diminish odors is to toss in a handful of soil after each use. Ask your land manager about latrine-building techniques.

Toilet paper should be plain, white, and non-perfumed. It should be used sparingly and disposed of properly by thoroughly burying it in a cathole or placing it in plastic bags and packed out. Encourage use of “natural” toilet paper such as vegetation and snow.

Feminine hygiene products should be placed in plastic bags and packed out. They should not be buried because they do not decompose readily and animals may dig them up.

Urine has little direct effect on vegetation or soil. In some cases urine may draw wildlife that’s attracted to salt. They can defoliate plants and dig up soil. Urinating on rocks, pine needles, and gravel is less likely to attract wildlife. Diluting urine with water from a water bottle can help minimize negative effects.

Special considerations for river canyons: River canyons often present unique Leave No Trace problems. The most common practice is to urinate directly in the river and pack out waste in sealed boxes for later disposal. Ask your land manager for details about specific areas.