Trouble on the Trails: Forest Service Grapples with Crowds, Trash and Human Waste

The coronavirus pandemic has drawn increasing crowds to the great outdoors, including many popular hiking trails, swimming holes and recreation areas in the White Mountains. But the burst in popularity has created new problems for the folks who manage New Hampshire’s national forest. The problem is the same throughout national forests in the United States.

Tiffany Benna, who oversees recreation for the U.S. Forest Service, walks through the Lincoln Woods parking lot. “I was like almost holding my breath coming around the corner going, ‘Is it going to be?…Oh, wow, it is – it already is full!’ she says.

There are no spots in the 150 space lot, and there are 80 cars parked on the shoulder of the Kancamagus Highway where it’s now common, on weekends, to find 300 cars parked, and sometimes double parked, on the road.

The Forest Service expected this. Additional porta-potties and dumpsters have been set up in high use areas. What they didn’t expect was the more recent shift in public behavior.

“We’re seeing human waste along trails,” Benna says. “We’re seeing graffiti which we haven’t really seen, on boulders and rocks along the trails, not just on our signs. And we’re also seeing a lot of people, like 100 volunteers go into the forest and pull out 300 pounds of trash.”

The reason for this, Benna says: First time visitors to the forest who just don’t know what’s expected of them.

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