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Viki Mather: Life on the trail and what to do about poop

Viki and Allan did some volunteer trail maintenance and they have a message for you
(Viki Mather)

Last summer, Allan and I dedicated a couple of our canoe trips to trail and campsite maintenance. First time ever we travelled with a chainsaw, a shovel and a six-foot steel bar. 

We did not go fast, and we did not go far. Yet at the end of the day, there was a great deal of contentment.

Most of the time people travelling these routes don’t have time, tools or energy to remove fallen trees from the path. Especially when the trees are more than a few inches thick. It takes a long time to cut through a big tree with a little swede saw. More often than not, folks will find a new way to get around a large obstacle. Over time, the portages get harder and longer.

As we travelled north with tools in hand — along with our packs and canoe — we took the time and energy to remove trees newly fallen and trees that we used to climb over or walk around. We met many people along the way. Some of the most grateful people in the world.

The shovel and bar were to fix the biggest problem at campsites. Toilet paper. 

Sadly, there are a lot of people who have no idea how to cope with bathroom issues in the wild. They gotta go when nature calls, but have no idea what to do when there is no flusher. 

So they do their thing, and drop the paper just like at home. Unfortunately, paper dropped on rocks or bushes, or on the forest floor does not magically disappear. 

On the campsites, we moved “treasure chests” where they existed, and installed new ones where they did not. The box is made of wood with a hole cut in the top. Fancy ones have a big lid that acts as a privacy screen. Their function is obvious to even the most naïve. Fulfill the call of nature and drop the paper. Easy. No thinking required.

Then the problem arises again when the next campsite has no box. Or at the lunch spot. Or along the trail. For those who follow, it is a grisly sight. Would these people be terribly embarrassed if they knew me, and discovered I cleaned up their poop?  

The Great Lakes Sea Kayak Association has a great Guide to Scooping. (  The rules are simple. Go far, far away from water and campsite. Dig a six-inch deep hole, make a deposit, and bury the paper with the droppings. 

My suggestion is even simpler. Be furtive. Go where no one will ever find it, even if they try. Bury the paper. Deep.

Viki Mather has been commenting for Northern Life on the natural world and life in Greater Sudbury since the spring of 1984. Got a question or idea for Viki? Send an email to


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