(Is the group in front of you too slow on the steps? This is what happens if you just go around them)
Leave No Trace.. more than just an idea and good sounding words. The program was designed to provide some guidelines for land use and recreation, particularly for WILDERNESS areas (like Old Rag), in the absence of laws and burdensome regulations.
For public lands that are extremely heavily used the guidelines are critically important if the nature of the resource is to be preserved.
1. Plan ahead and prepare... Take a moment to think about water, bathroom, snacks, fitness of your group, and the time and weather. Prepare yourself mentally and physically for the day on the mountain BEFORE you leave home.
2. Travel on durable surfaces.. (most of Old Rag is closed to camping now, so I left that part out) The trails on Old Rag are "hardened", defined, somewhat maintained surfaces... but the trails are not 10 feet wide! or wider. And while you may know a "better, more direct way" that is not a regularly maintained trail, with a few hundred or thousand people traveling on your "secret path" ..it will soon become a rut, an unsightly scar on the mountainside, prone to erosion. Stay on the trail.... not on the margin.
3. Dispose of waste properly. Yes, Shenandoah is a PARK. No, it does not have a grounds crew that picks up your trash. It's as simple as if you bring it in, you carry it out. And yes, many people believe that if it's organic, it's OK to leave... Yes, apple trees grow throughout the region untended by the hand of man... and apples readily decompose. When is the last time you saw a banana tree? or an orange tree? or a "plastic water bottle tree" growing along Skyline Drive? An orange peel will take YEARS to decompose as will toilet paper.... plastic and cigarette butts last forever. When you leave it, throw it, "hide" it... its there for a long time. Don't do it.
4. Leave what you find. (unless you are carrying out trash you find) Flowers and pine cones are reproductive organs of the plants on the mountain. ... you don't want someone picking your reproductive organs do you? Enough said.
5.Minimize campfire impacts... this is an easy one, since no fires are allowed at all!
6. Respect wildlife. This goes along with not leaving waste, food or trash. Animals are opportunistic eaters, and human food is not what they need. The animals on Old Rag are at home there, and do quite nicely without human intervention (or taunting or prodding or teasing) give them wide berth.
7. Be considerate of other visitors. Visitors go to the mountains for a wide variety of reasons. For the quiet, the solitude, the challenge, the chance to reflect on creation. And each person has the right to that experience... Having said that, no one has the right to step on another person's experience. If you need music, wear headphones. If you are with a large group, spread into smaller groups. This is not supposed to be a "Kings Dominion" experience... "take a number, wait in line for your turn at a thrill". If you think someone needs directions, then spend a moment teaching them, don't mark the trail with paint or chalk ( the way the Capitol Hiking Club does).
The damage and impact to Old Rag Mountain is easily seen, not just by the ORMS (who are arguably there more than any other group) but also by the National Park Service staff and even the average visitor.
A study, by the NPS, to determine exactly who makes the most impacts costs a lot of money and tends to pit user groups against user groups. Regardless of the guilty party, the result would be to restrict usage for all... or heavy-handed usage regulations.... for ALL.
No one really wants that.
Over the past several years, the ORMS has been very quietly making observations of the users of Old Rag Mountain. Not just one or two, but thousands of users on weekend days for 25 weekends per year. The results?
Like it or not, there is no debate or arguing....
The reality is this: Those three groups are making a huge impact on Old Rag... and not a good one.
Trail runners. Who doesn't love trail running? Many of our Stewards are fanatical about trail running. and of all the places on the planet, Old Rag is one of the best! But midday, on a weekend? with 1300 other people on the trail? Really?
Trail running at these times leads to passing hiking groups often by running on the margins of the trail, or off the trail altogether! It sounds unbelievable, but there are places on the Saddle Trail where the trail has been trampled and widened to a width of almost twenty feet!
It also leads to a frustrating run... who wants to have a stop and go experience while waiting behind crowds? There are hundreds of miles of little-used trails in Shenandoah begging to be run... Try those on weekends... a much greater experience (disclaimer... I LOVE trail running... but not on Old Rag ... on weekends! for ideas, call us!)
Large groups. Large groups contribute to trail widening much like the trail runners. Walking four-abreast, while talking, necessitates others passing you by stepping on the margins of the trail or off the trail entirely. In general, trails are designed to be traveled on single file with room for passing others. That is not to say that two- abreast can't be done at times, but it's awkward. The "group mentality" of large groups (think busloads of people) is in no way conducive to a wilderness experience for anyone... either in the group or outside of the group.
If you are coming in a large group, consider breaking yourselves into smaller parties of no more than 10, and traveling at staggered times.
If you need to hike in a large group... join the Army.
First -time hikers. Learn before you go... as much as you can!. Go with someone who knows good outdoor practices and ethics. Prepare yourselves mentally and physically. Carryout your trash... all of it. Don't bite off more than you can chew. Don't cut across switchbacks in the trail... Be ready for an AWESOME mountaintop experience!
Please, The ORMS is on Old Rag to enhance the visitor experience for ALL. We do this thru education. Please help us spread the word about how we can ALL get more out of our mountaintop experience... LEAVE NO TRACE! for everyone.. for all of us!