|Backpacking across the Roans, my new favorite mountains in the East|
As we descended down the steep backside of the mountain, our eyes scanned the area for any spot that might accommodate our group of seven Southeast Women Backpackers. We lingered at one semi-flat place in pristine forest, debating the merits of stopping or continuing on into unknown, down slippery rocks when were were so tired. This site was tempting-- no one had camped here before and there were enough trees for our hammocks. But we hesitated, knowing our large group would trample this area flat, possibly killing sensitive plants, or worse creating a new campsite if others followed in our footsteps. We knew we had enough energy to continue on, but we didn't know how far behind us the other members of our group were, or how tired they were. It was a tough call, but in the end we continued on down the trail.
Fortunately, we came to an empty spacious camping spot not much further down the mountain. So in the end, it worked out great. But this got me thinking about the footprints we make while backpacking, especially while passing through such sensitive, beautiful regions like the Roan Highlands. It made me wonder how our presence here impacts this fragile place, and what we can do to lessen our impact.
|Gorgeous grassy meadows of wildflowers|
When I began to read about all the unique plant communities in the Roan Mountains, I learned about all the threats this beautiful place. In addition to usual risks to rare mountaintop plants like inbreeding, loss of habitat due to development or global warming, the grassy bald plant communities are at special risk due to the loss of natural forces that used to keep the balds tree-free (i.e. the extinction of the elk and bison and other large herbivores that once roamed these hills. It is also possible Native Americans also may have helped create these places). Now the balds will grow over with trees without help of volunteers, and introduced grazer like goats and steer. I was also surprised to read that one of the primary threats for the federally endangered Roan Mountain bluet is "trampling." This landscape of the Roan, with it's open vistas and grassy expanses, seems to invite exploration and romping off trail. Could we hikers really trample a plant to extinction? Does walking off trail really cause that much of an impact?
|Our nice already-established campsite|
Pickering, CM, Hill, W, Newsome, D., and Y-F Leung. 2005 Comparing hiking, mountain biking, and horse riding impacts on vegetation and soils in Australia and the United States. Journal of Environmental Management 91: 551-562.