Clean Waterways: The Guide to Greener Soaps

You can’t deny the benefits of Leave No Trace (LNT) camping and hiking. Most who enjoy the outdoors agree that carrying out everything you brought in is the only way to keep trails and campgrounds litter free and natural for your next visit and for others years down the road. Nothing is worse than arriving at a remote location after a great day of hiking, only to find a trashed campsite.

At a time when people are increasingly mobile and are seeking to explore more remote areas, the “pack-it-in, pack-it-out” philosophy is more important than ever. Some of the nicest campsites I have ever found have included a great view of a nearby lake, river, or stream. But, have you ever wondered how your camp might be impacting those waterways you walk beside, swim in, or enjoy paddling? For one, keeping your cookware and yourself clean on the trails with conventional soap has unforeseen consequences for water recreation, for wildlife, and for our waterways’ health.

Credit: Chris Sferra
Credit: Chris Sferra

What are Phosphates, and How Do They Work?

Phosphorus occurs naturally in soils and is one of the environment’s most important nutrients. Phosphates, however, are refined and used in most everyday soaps and detergents. These act as a builder, which enables the soap’s cleaning components to work. In action, this compound removes films, sweat, or grease, allowing you to get yourself or your dishes clean.

While algae and aquatic plants need naturally-occurring phosphorus to grow and survive, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Understand that phosphorus from humans doesn’t just come from soaps and wastewater. As rain runs off the land into waterways, large amounts further wash into streams and rivers.

In areas where agriculture uses phosphorus-based fertilizers, many nutrients end up in a body of water as a result. Excess quantities generate significantly more algae and aquatic plants, which then negatively impact wildlife and recreation.

How does this hurt waterways? Too many phosphates can harm water quality, clog up waterways with excessive vegetation, and create oxygen-deprived dead zones. Over time, this change creates dirtier water and reduces aquatic wildlife. Anyone who has tried to paddle along a lake or river with too much vegetation can relate to the frustration of constantly getting caught in the weeds or cleaning off a heavy paddle laden with plants every few strokes.


How Can You Apply LNT to Waterways?

1. Use phosphate-free and biodegradable soaps on the trail

EMS carries Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash and Dr. Bronner’s, two great all-purpose soaps in easily packable, small containers. Both are free of harmful chemicals and phosphates and are biodegradable. Soaps are usually deemed biodegradable if bacteria can break them down to at least 90-percent water, CO2, and organic material within six months. This simple step ensures you aren’t adding anything unnecessary to the land and waterways while you are out there enjoying them.

2. Less is more!

Both of these brands come in small bottles, and the soap is highly concentrated and designed to be diluted. So, save yourself a few bucks, and reduce your impact by diluting a few drops in a small pot before you wash your dishes or your face. If you follow this rule, that green soap will last for many more trips to come.

3. Employ the 200-foot rule

Biodegradable soaps cannot decompose properly if they are washed directly into a body of water. Instead, the breakdown from bacteria and microbes occurs in the soil. To ensure you are reducing your footprint, do your washing at least 200 feet away from a water source. Then, try to dump wastewater into a hole a few inches deep, which can be covered when finished. This way, nature can work its magic and break the soap down before it washes into the stream.

As outdoor-lovers, we are constantly looking for ways to go farther, lighten our loads, and reduce our impacts, so we can continue to do what we enjoy for years to come. As you gear up for warm-weather adventures, be a steward for your sport by using greener soaps and doing your part to protect the waterways we know and appreciate.

The Seven Carries Route in the Adirondacks. | Credit: Marcus Johnson
The Seven Carries Route in the Adirondacks. | Credit: Marcus Johnson

Small on Vertical, Big on Fun: Beat the Crowds at These Small New England Ski Resorts

For those who cut their teeth skiing eastern mountains, the long row of red tail lights leading to a resort is an all-too-familiar sight. In most cases, you hit your first line before even buckling your boots.

To some extent, crowds are just a fact of Northeastern skiing, especially at the larger resorts and always on the weekends. But, instead of going big, why not opt for a smaller mountain with local history, a lower price, fewer crowds, and arguably better conditions? Here is the low down on some lesser-known resorts in New England that completely deliver.

Courtesy of Camden Snow Bowl
Courtesy of Camden Snow Bowl

Camden Snow Bowl

The Camden Snow Bowl, a community-owned ski mountain located in Camden, Maine, is fairly small—offering just 105 skiable acres and 845 vertical feet. Despite its short stature, it has amazing views and one of the only New England peaks where you can see the ocean.

What the Snow Bowl lacks in size, it makes up for in character, and you will be glad to catch a glimpse of what skiing was like before the days of multi-peak resorts. For example, the snow bowl hosts a historic A-frame lodge at its base which opened in 1936 during the Great Depression.

The resort has something for everyone, and this mountain is great if you have a few friends at varying skill levels. Nearly all the more difficult trails from the summit lift have well-maintained glades between them, and here, skiing the trees is a pleasure rather than a liability. Interested in getting more comfortable with backcountry conditions? The intermediate Scrimshaw or Connie’s Light glades are great places to get your feet wet.

If tree skiing isn’t for you, take a relaxing cruise down the mile-long Spinnaker trail. The mountain’s small size allows your party to split up, run after run, but easily meet at the base for the next one.

Shawnee Mountain | Credit: Chris Sferra
Shawnee Peak | Credit: Christopher O. Sferra

Shawnee Peak

Founded in 1938, Shawnee Peak is the ideal mountain for Portland locals to jam in a last-minute day trip. Located in the foothills of the White Mountains in Bridgton, Maine, Shawnee offers a surprisingly big mountain feel (1,300 vertical feet and 245 skiable acres) for a small mountain price.

When the snow starts falling in the morning, do yourself a favor: Leave work early to “sneak to the peak” and catch some great turns on the empty trails. Don’t worry about arriving late in the day; starting at 3:30 p.m., inexpensive evening tickets allow you to hit 19 lit slopes until 8 or 9 o’clock.

If a day trip is not in the cards, Shawnee has a yurt and several cabins for a rustic ski-on-ski-off experience. At the summit, catch impressive views of the Whites and Moose Pond as the sun sinks towards the horizon.

Shawnee’s accessibility combined with its ample night skiing terrain makes it a great mid-week destination if you want to catch some fresh snow before it gets skied off.

Cranmore Mountain | Credit: Dan Houde
Cranmore Mountain | Credit: Dan Houde

Cranmore Mountain

Nestled in the town of North Conway, New Hampshire, Cranmore Mountain is home to over 170 skiable acres and 1,200 vertical feet, making it a great, less-expensive option to other White Mountain resorts.

What makes Cranmore stand out is its wide-set layout serviced by three lifts to the peak, which keep lines at bay. While some might be drawn in by the high-speed quad, avoid crowds and poor conditions by hitting the skier’s right of the mountain for more difficult and left for intermediate terrain, both serviced by triple lifts. Take the North Conway trail to visit Cranmore’s signature glacial erratic boulder and catch noteworthy views of Mt. Washington.


What separates these smaller locations is, the surrounding towns did not grow up around them, but rather, the resorts developed out of these communities. The mountains might be missing some of larger resorts’ bells and whistles, but you are sure to have a skiing experience steeped in New England culture, community, and charm.