Enjoy the outdoors but leave no trace

G. Sam Piatt - PDT Outdoors Columnist

Environmental concerns are always there in the back of my mind, even though I seldom mention the subject here in this 42-year-old column written chiefly about matters of the outdoors.

Last week I learned a new catch phrase – new to me at least – that I have adopted as my own, and I’m hoping everyone who uses our beautiful outdoors will adhere to it also.

It came out of the 27th annual Ohio River Sweep held June 18 along sections of the river from Pittsburgh to Cairo.

Local Cub Scouts soldiered along the Ashland riverfront bagging trash thrown indiscriminately along the shoreline by some people who had gone before – people too lazy and thoughtless to carry a plastic bag to put their trash in and send off to the landfill.

Andrew Adkins covered the event for the Ashland Daily Independent. The catch phrase was in a quote from Roy Dillon, scout leader.

Dillon said his troop took part for a second year to practice its motto “Leave no trace.”

I visited a section of shoreline along Kinniconick Creek where John Vinson and I were able to launch our kayaks from a rough graveled road leading down to the water’s edge. Some people had apparently camped there. And they left plenty of trace of their presence. Bread wrappers, an egg carton, beer cans and sundry other castoff items littered the bank.


During the 25 years I worked as a reporter for The Independent covering northeastern and eastern Kentucky, I sometimes came across sections of Tygarts Creek and the Little Sandy River where plastic milk cartons, tin cans, and other such castoff household debris almost choked off the flow of the streams – so thick that it seemed you could walk across.

I dutifully snapped photos of these areas and the newspaper would publish them.

It evidently brought public awareness to bear and over the years such scenes became fewer and farther between. Today I don’t see much of such indiscriminate dumping at all.


Trash dumping along the Ohio has also lessened, even though there is still considerable room for improvement.

The river is cleaner now that it was when I spent my boyhood days along its shore. The river was our main source of recreation. We spent our hot summer vacation swimming in its waters three or four times a day.

I remember occasions when, upon arrival for a dip, we would be greeted by a thin layer of oil on the surface. This was largely the result of towboats cleaning their barges and pumping their residue overboard while returning to port. That and spills at loading terminals.

We would flail at the surface with arms and feet until most of the oil was pushed offshore and on downstream.

Today you seldom see oil on the river. That’s because of stricter regulations and their enforcement.


Highway littering is not as bad as it used to be, but still you see sections of U.S. highways 23 and 52 trashed by passing motorists. It’s a mystery to me how anyone can roll the window down and throw out fast food wrappers and cups. I tell you the truth, I can’t even toss a chewing gum wrapper out.


To write of environmental concerns is to mention the Biggie: Global Warming, or Climate Change.

It’s said that the primary cause of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, which emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—primarily carbon dioxide.

Other human activities, such as agriculture and deforestation, also contribute to the proliferation of greenhouse gases that cause temperatures of earth to rise – not to mention emissions from automobiles and airplanes.

Rising ocean temperatures, scientists say, can lead to melting of the polar caps, which in turn could raise ocean levels to flood coastal cities.

It could also cause more severe storms, heavier rainfall and an increase in wildfires.

A couple of years ago I wrote about this issue, wondering whether recent changes attributed to human activity can be seen as part of the natural variations in Earth’s climate and temperature – that it is difficult or impossible to see a direct connection between climate change and any single weather event.

It was the second issue I’ve ever written about that generated some heated responses from readers. One climate change proponent said he had read this column for years but would never read it again, in fact would even cancel his subscription to the newspaper.

Since I’m not a scientist, and have no control over rising taxes, I will wait and watch and see.

Economists tell us that acting to reduce fossil fuel emissions would be far less expensive than dealing with the consequences of not doing so.

The second issue that generated a bit of hate mail? That was when I wrote that some residents living along streams in eastern Kentucky should install septic tanks and decease with the dumping of raw sewage into the streams.

One reader, a native eastern Kentuckian then living in the Carolinas, said my accusations were not true and that I had joined the chorus of writers wanting to bring down eastern Kentuckians.

That’s not true. I’m a native of eastern Kentucky. I want to make us look good, not bad.

G. Sam Piatt

PDT Outdoors Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or [email protected]

Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or [email protected]

comments powered by Disqus