By Anna Machowicz

As an avid hiker and one new to living in the city, I always find paved trails a little boring. A miniature road with rules, boundaries, restrictions and likely social encounters… I’d rather pass. My type of hike is over soil, rocks and streams; discovering places few people have been before. As a conservationist, this leaves me conflicted. I know the importance of staying on the path to keep critical species alive and invasive species out, but I want to see what lies just over the next hill, around the next turn!

Of course, I’m not alone.

Our crew recently worked on Brown’s Creek State Trail in Stillwater, planting trees and shrubs over rogue paths that had been made by visitors aiming for a better view. As we worked I felt the internal struggle between feeling good about the project and secretly wanting to travel the path to see what had attracted everyone else. I stuck to the established trail and was impressed by the difference the new plantings made, practically hiding the rogue path from view. That’s when I saw them – multiple new paths, trampled into existence by our boots.

As a five-person crew, every time we take a step we leave 10 footprints where there were none before. It amazed me on this and other similar projects how quickly we leave an impact. Often moving in a line, tracing the boots of the person in front of us, we damage and destroy the life underfoot. A quick slip can leave a steel-toe-boot-sized patch of bare earth in the matter of seconds. Our impact as five typically repairs itself quickly, but the impact of hundreds or thousands of others does not go unnoticed so easily. 

After seeing this typically innocent destruction, I try to talk myself out of the “I’m only one person, it won’t matter” argument when out hiking with my dog. As five people or even just as one, every step we take leaves an impression of more than just our boot treads.