VICTORIA—There are certain trails Tricia Dong just won’t go near anymore.
It’s not just that avid adventurer from Vancouver would rather find hiking places with fewer crowds, so that she can enjoy pristine scenes in nature without the click-click of cellphone cameras and steady whir of drone motors.
It’s also the poop.
Coming from humans, it’s all over the place in parks nowadays.
In the Hiking B.C. Facebook group, which has more than 100,000 members, a man posted a picture of what looked to him like human waste on the shore of Garibaldi Lake — a pristine alpine lake that is at the juncture of several of the greater Vancouver area’s most popular hikes.
“I mean, it’s nice that people are getting outdoors more,” said Dong. “But it’s a limited resource and if it’s not taken care of, it’s going to deteriorate or get shut down.”
Trail overuse is a growing problem in British Columbia, with uber-popular trails such as the one to Joffre Lakes in Pemberton, B.C., having a new day pass system to control the number of people who come to visit everyday. Poop is just one piece of the problem, along with litter and the impact of people trampling vegetation off the trail.
Jennifer Kardynal, the community liaison officer for B.C. Parks’ South Coast region, confirmed it’s true: Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a big increase in the number of people using their trails. And increased reports of human waste — sometimes on or very near trails, campsites and water sources.
“We are definitely taking an education approach,” Kardynal said. “Encouraging people to pack out their garbage, recognizing that parks are not self-cleaning. Trash and excrement on the trail ruin things for everybody.”
She also said the provincial park authority, which got an $83-million funding boost from the government for the next three years, plans to use some of that money to increase facilities, such as outhouses, in some of the most popular areas.
People pooping outdoors is, of course, as old as humanity itself; when nature calls while you’re in nature, you must … you know.
But with more and more people using the trails, an increasing number have not yet learned that this, like many things, has a code of etiquette.
For the uninitiated, here are the basics.
The Leave No Trace organization, whose seven principles underlie hiking ethics, says that the best thing for hikers to do is use bathroom facilities on trails, if they’re available.
If they’re not available, it’s up to you to bury your poop — but not just anywhere. You should choose a location at least 60 metres away from trails, water sources or camp grounds, and dig a hole at least six inches deep. Bury toilet paper with the poop or, even better, pack it out in a plastic bag.
Otherwise, human waste and toilet paper ends up close to trails and water sources, where animals can be attracted to it, and contaminants from the waste can end up in drinking water.
Stephen Hui, a lifelong hiker from the Vancouver area who has written two hiking guide books — 105 Hikes and Destination Hikes — said human waste on hiking trails has always been a challenge.
“It’s definitely getting worse. What I mean is it’s becoming a more obvious problem,” he said. “You used to run across it here and there, but now, with all the crowding on popular trails and parks, if you see a convenient poop spot you’ll probably find some and some toilet paper hanging out.”
From his point of view, part of the problem is that not everyone getting started hiking today has the same mentorship that he had growing up. He learned about the Leave No Trace principles in Boy Scouts and through outdoor clubs.
Now, more people are getting into hiking through social media groups or casual meetups, and they might not realize that there’s something to learn when it comes to pooping.
So he wants hikers to do some reading on the ethics, but he also wants to see B.C. Parks and other municipal park operators do more to help raise awareness.
“There are already outhouses at the most popular areas, but there could be more, they could be maintained more,” he said. “Some of the outhouses are so gross that people poop right beside them.”
He also wants to see more educational signage up around parks.