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Nature is one of the most underutilized treasures in life : Aarti Arora

People Making Difference
Contributed by : Vasudha Sharma

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We are truly blessed as residents of evergreen state. There is no better way to get to experience the vast abundance of breathtaking views than to hike them. Eighty percent of Washington's wilderness is within 100 miles of major metropolitan areas, making our state's wilderness some of the most accessible in the nation. I was recently invited by Aarti Arora, ''Hike-a-Thon'' activist to participate in the Washington Trails Association's signature fundraising event. 'Hike-a-Thon' gives you the opportunity to help protect the trails you love while you hike. Her efforts are truly inspiring and commendable. Here are the highlights of the inspirational talk I had with her for her cause to be part of the Hike-a-Thon community.

What made you love the trails so much?

In the grind of the job, home and other responsibilities we all need space. My husband loves nature photography and every time we went out for hiking we got lot more than fresh air. The views we got home in our camera were mesmerizing and memories we made were priceless. We hike not to escape life but to not let life escape us.

Why do we need to protect trails?

Simply because its everyone's responsibility to protect natural gifts. Recently there has been increased congestion and people in the wilderness area. This pose a challenge for maintenance and upkeep of wilderness. Not every visitor is fully aware of his/her role in trail conservation. It's important to 'pack it in, pack it out'. When you are in wilderness areas, practice 'leave no trace' ethics. As the saying goes, leave only footprints, take only pictures. Pack out all your trash, never attempt to approach or feed a wild animal and stay on the trail to avoid trampling delicate flora and fauna.

What can help motivate people to participate in next year Hike a Thon?

I think a lot of people did not realize that they can play their part at their own pace and own choice of time. They thought they had to hike with me. Instead they can log their own miles or sponsor the hikers to raise funds. There are so many ways to do your part even beyond Hike a Thon. For example, hiking with your phone could help preserve trails. From economic reports to social media user to trail user statistics, good data clearly has a role to play in creating a sustainable future for trails.
A responsible web and social media practices like the role of trip reports and analytics to using social media channels, the digital data and communities can be a positive force for trails.
Another interesting example is Strava, an app which tracks users running and cycling activity via GPS. The app, currently boasting over 1 million active users, generates a heat map of activity that can be used to better understand who is on trial and how trails are being used. The data gives not only general statistics of trail user demographics (average age, gender, etc.), but also most common trail uses (running, biking), trail popularity, existence of hiker-made social trails, change in trail use, and more, which can be extrapolated in numerous ways. If it shows trail usage drop off significantly four miles into a six-mile trail, it may be indicative of an overgrown trail in need of clearing. If heavy bike use is seen on a hiking only trail, better signage may be needed. If hikers are consistently taking hiker-made social trails, land managers may need to take a second look at those trails and their hiker education efforts around the damage of going off-trail. There are many potential real-world applications that can come out of thoughtful analysis of data from active users.

I heard that there are plans to reduce transit to trails?

Creating a transit system that allows car free and urban residents access to Washington''s lands and connect to rural communities is a shared goal among many outdoor industry professionals.
Physical access to Washington trails is one of the largest and most difficult problems to solve when it comes to getting people outside. Many households do not own a vehicle, which limits access to trails. Fortunately, efforts are beginning to shape with eliminating this access disparity and improve trail visitor ship. As I summed up my interview I couldn't help noticing the infectious energy and inspiration in Aarti's eyes, like any other vibrant outdoorsy hiker would have to support the cause.

About Author
I am a writer by choice, photographer by chance and a wellness expert by profession . Every aspect of my work has been inspired by simplicity which I consider as ultimate sophistication.



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