Environmental benefits of hiking

Nature benefits when people create trails and recreational areas, because many animals and plant species can use these places too and because hiking trails can help connect the last standing islands of nature, into a survival web for biodiversity

Drawings and text by Frits Ahlefeldt, Hiking.org

Hiking trails can be designed to work as green corridors

If designed well the hiking trails can have many very positive environmental effects on all the eco-systems they run through and bind together, as the trails and paths can and will be used by a lot of different species, many of them often more or less endangered and lost without the trails to make it possible for these species to thrive and move between different natural areas.

One of the fastest growing branches of ecology is landscape ecology. A new field of knowledge about how the eternal flow and web of life connects to and make the best use of the incredible diverse landscapes on Earth. The not so coincidental thing here is that  almost all of the most essential elements that make a landscape and the different animals and plants in it thrive – are the same elements that help create good hiking experiences.

And this is why hiking trails can work as green corridors for endangered species in a way that have a great effect on supporting the flow of biodiversity and ecological well-being between the still existing islands of nature, especially in countries where most of the land has been cleared and used for industrial production, roads, farming or urban development.

Connecting the locals, the hikers and the landscapes

Green heart illustration

Connecting people to nature to create bonds and understanding

Hiking trails also have another effect on nature: Trails make the landscapes more accessible, not only to the animals but also to the locals. The classic conservationist view on nature is that we should leave it alone – as much as possible, fence it in and keep the lost, industrialized, city dwelling majority of our human kind, in a no-damage-possible distance to the delicate ecological systems and endangered species out there and leave the care-taking of nature to a few highly trained specialists.

But in the last few years this “no-touch” separation culture has given away to a very different kind of culture, one that is based on the simple fact that if we have no idea about what nature is or how our lifestyles and blind consumer cultures influence it, we are not likely to respect it or live in the more sustainable ways, that more and more of the highly trained experts say we need to.

Instead we need school kids, elders, dads and moms, computer programmers and key account managers to get in touch with nature, explore, experience and feel it – to understand it. And one of the best way to make that possible, is to create hiking trails that connect the cities, the suburbs and the landscapes.

Because then something strange can happen: Local caring angels suddenly can start to appear out of nowhere, to heal and help the landscapes, clean the streams, plant new trees and repair the old stone wells.  And when locals starts to interact and feel much more at home by walking and relating to the landscapes around where they live then any run-down, no-where location can change into a green, thriving cared for place, much faster and better than any yet known, tried top-down strategy .

So it is not only the ecology, endangered species and biodiversity that benefit from hiking trails. But local communities and villages can be revitalized in amazing ways, that only get even better when new streams of long-distance hikers from afar, starts to come by and give new life and income to small towns and places.