With the arrival of summer, our National Parks beginning to reopen, and many of us needing a big dose of Mother Nature, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of Leave No Trace ethics.
Leave No Trace Land Ethics was the name of a pamphlet the US Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management cooperatively developed in 1987 after wilderness use greatly increased with the advent of better outdoor gear in the 60’s and 70’s. In 1990, a national education program of Leave No Trace was developed by the USFS in conjunction with NOLS – The National Outdoor Leadership School. And then in 1993, the BLM joined the program followed by the NPS and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Simply put, Leave No Trace is the practice of minimizing impact on our natural areas in order to protect and preserve them, both for the ecosystem itself, as well as for future generations of visitors. Leave No Trace Center For Outdoor Ethics outlines seven guiding principles of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors.
- Plan Ahead and Prepare – Adequate trip planning and preparation helps outdoor adventurers accomplish trip goals safely and enjoyably, while simultaneously minimizing damage to the land. Poor planning often results in miserable campers and damage to natural and cultural resources. Rangers often tell stories of campers they have encountered who, because of poor planning and unexpected conditions, degrade backcountry resources and put themselves at risk.
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces – The goal of travel in the outdoors is to move through natural areas while avoiding damage to the land or waterways. Understanding how travel causes impacts is necessary to accomplish this goal. Travel damage occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond recovery. The resulting barren area leads to soil erosion and the development of undesirable trails. Backcountry travel may involve travel over both trails and off-trail areas.
- Dispose of Waste Properly – “Pack it in, Pack it out” is a familiar mantra to seasoned wildland visitors. Any user of recreation lands has a responsibility to clean up before he or she leaves. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash and garbage Always properly dispose of human waste in a manner most appropriate for that specific wilderness area.
- Leave What You Find – Allow others a sense of discovery by leaving rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects of interest as you find them.
- Minimize Campfire Impacts – The best place to build a fire is within an existing fire ring in a well-placed campsite. Keep the fire small and burning only for the time you are using it. Allow wood to burn completely to ash. Put out fires with water, not dirt. Dirt may not completely extinguish the fire. Avoid building fires next to rock outcrops where the black scars will remain for many years.
- Respect Wildlife – Learn about wildlife through quiet observation. Do not disturb wildlife or plants just for a “better look.” Observe wildlife from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee. Large groups often cause more damage to the environment and can disturb wildlife so keep your group small. If you have a larger group, divide into smaller groups if possible to minimize your impacts.
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors – Be sure to thoroughly consider how your experience is affecting the way someone else enjoys the outdoors. For example, earbuds may be a less obtrusive way to enjoy music than external speakers, but if you have the volume turned so high that you can’t hear someone behind you who wants to pass, your personal preference for music will negatively affect other people.
You can read the full and complete details of these cornerstones of respectful outdoor stewardship here:
Leave No Trace – The 7 Principles
So when you’re out and about this summer, hiking, camping, backpacking, you can practice gratitude for your experiences by leaving no trace on the land and for those who come after you.
Another important consideration for summer 2020, is how we can enjoy nature and keep ourselves and each other healthy in the midst of COVID-19. NOLS has been a pioneer and educator of Leave No Trace ethics for years, and they’ve done a great job at putting together a guide for social distancing responsibly in the outdoors.
One of their suggestions is to enjoy your own backyard. So although you may not live near a National Park, no matter where you do live, your state has beauty that perhaps you have yet to discover. The great state of Maine has launched a campaign called Adventure Local Maine – Discovering More of Me. So if you’re a Mainer, you’ll want to be sure and check that out. Be sure to look at your home state’s visitor’s bureau or tourism website to learn more about what your state has to offer for outdoor fun.
Also consider that a new experience doesn’t have to be about going to a place you’ve never been. Maybe it’s a place you’ve been to a lot, but in times of quiet introspection, you have the opportunity to experience it in a way you haven’t before. Out my door and down the street is a lovely riparian area with huge Cottonwood Willow trees where many different species of birds migrate to in the summer. I can go to this place everyday and the weather, the lighting, the amount of water in the wash, the birds, how I feel, and my perceptions, are always different, and so each time it’s a new experience – a new place.
“You can never step into the same river for new waters are always flowing unto you.” ~ Heraclitus of Ephesus
Lastly, this summer is a great time to plan for future adventures. In between times of enjoying your own backyard, you can ponder and plan your next travel adventure. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a planner. I like having something “out there” to look forward to. Admittedly, it does take one out of the present, but a little dreaming can certainly buoy one’s spirits. And, According to a 2010 psychological study about the connection between anticipation and happiness that was published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, just planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it!
This summer, let’s do our best to enjoy and be grateful for each and every day. This truly is the time when many of us will have time to stop and smell the roses, even if they are just our neighbors’.