Nick Millette of East Bethel has hauled all kinds of trash from the woods, but the car battery he discovered while hiking last year in the Superior National Forest may have been the most challenging. Still, according to Millette and other hikers who make a point of packing out more than they pack in, it's small bits of trash that are the most common and the most vexing — because it is often left behind by well-meaning park and trail users who simply overlook it.
That kind of rubbish even has a special name — microtrash. It includes everything from bread bag ties to tear-off tops from food packages.
"The worst is the little plastic sleeves that attach straws to juice boxes," said Zach Johns of Hibbing, a volunteer who helps clean and maintain the Superior Hiking Trail. "One year I was in a park picnic area that was virtually covered with them."
A common trash problem in campsites are fire rings full of waste that campers think will leave no trace when engulfed.
"People think aluminum foil burns," Johns said. "It doesn't." Neither, it should be said, do aluminum cans or bottle caps, other common items found in fire rings.
Campers should never burn garbage, Johns said, and can help eliminate microtrash simply by conducting a "Ranger Walk" before they leave a campsite. "Walk around the campsite slowly with your hands clasped behind your backs, carefully looking for anything you may have overlooked."
One camper who didn't do that forgot something that Johns found and removed. "An entire bottle of pancake syrup was left at one campsite," he said. "Talk about attracting bears …"