Leave No Trace Confessional: I Cut an AT Blaze Off a Tree

A hiker's conservation sin leaves him lost.

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“When I was young and hiking the Appalachian Trail,
I came across a downed tree with a blaze on it. Since
I thought it was only a matter of time until a trail crew cleared the deadfall, I flaked off the blazed bark and brought it home as a memento. Now it sits in my garage, a constant reminder of a good, formative time—and my lousy outdoor ethics. What can I do to feel less guilty when I see it?” –Nostalgic in Nederland

Dear Nostalgic,

When starry-eyed thru-hikers say that everyone brings a piece of the trail home with them, they don’t mean it literally. You know the code: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

While the AT is pretty hard to miss in most places, in others, blazes are the only means of wayfinding, and they’re often already fewer and farther between than most hikers would prefer. Chipping one off a tree is about as helpful a move as uprooting a trailhead sign (albeit easier to fit in a toplid).

So next time you want to remember your time on a trail, take a photo. Or, you know, do what those other thru-hikers probably did and get a calf tattoo.

Your Penance

We haven’t heard about any mass lost-persons events in the AT’s history, so your pilfered blaze likely didn’t cause any large-scale damage. Still, you’ve got a debt to pay. Sign up for a volunteer crew marking the Continental Divide Trail, which sorely needs it. Setting blazes is guaranteed to be a healing experience—as long as you resist the urge to remember it by bringing one home.

Got a confession? Email us at confessions@backpacker.com.

For more information about reducing your impact, visit LNT.org