When it comes to the outdoors, there are lots of rules. Rules on how to stay safe, rules on how to prepare for emergencies, and even rules on what to do with your dogs off leash. Depending on the activity and the equipment involved, there are tons of general rules that need to be followed. But none are more crucial than the importance of Leave No Trace.
When we began our Scouting journey (many years ago now) I didn’t know what Leave No Trace was. There are some things that come intuitively to me and this was just one of them. So as I learned the “technical” rules of LNT, I started to use them more effectively and to the point. I know that this may not come intuitively you though so I am going to describe these trails in a way that would make sense for me if I were reading them for the first time.
1.Plan ahead and prepare
Know the area you are going into and make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Make sure you are prepared for extreme circumstances such as rain, snow, or extreme sun if the season warrants it. If you can help it, break larger groups into smaller ones and avoid using the area during times of high use/traffic. I know this sometimes can’t be avoided but it’s at least worth taking a shot at it.
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
A durable surface is defined as an “established trail or campsite, rock, gravel, dry grass, or snow. When camping or hiking, make sure to stay on these surfaces to minimize damage to the area you are staying in. When backpacking to an unknown place, do your best to find out what you will be staying on if you can. Asking your local Forest Station will be a great way to find out what kind of terrain you are dealing with. Try and camp at least 20 feet away from a water source and keep areas as small as possible to minimize the impact on the area. If the trail is muddy, go through the mud, not around, and stay single file. Avoid muddy trails when possible so as not to make the trail worse with divots.
3. Dispose of waste properly
What every you “pack in” you MUST “pack out”. Meaning, whatever you travel with, must leave with you. If you are planning on camping near water, you must go potty at least 200 feet away from the water, dig a hole for your waste at least 6-8 inches deep and cover it well to disguise it. This includes your pet’s waste. When doing dishes, also make sure you are at least 200 feet from the water source and are using biodegradable soap.
4. Leave what you find
By preserving the area you are in, it will save it for future visitors and generations to come. If you want to remember what something looked like, take a picture of it, rather than taking it with you. This is something especially hard for children. But teaching them young will help them understand. You may not think that picking one flower will make a huge difference, but if everyone picked one flower or collected one rock, it would cause a huge problem!
5. Minimize campfire impacts
Campfires can leave lasting effects on an area when not properly taken care of. Obviously, fire can leave lasting damages if it gets out of hand, but it can also leave other unwanted effects on the backcountry. Only burn fires where you have been instructed it is ok to do so, use fire rings where available, and only use the firewood in the area when you can help it. When putting out your fire, make sure you have spread the fire thin and let all the coals die completely before leaving it unattended. Try and keep your fire small so it doesn’t get out of hand. Using a lamp for light and a camp stove for cooking can eliminate the need for fire altogether in most seasons.
6. Respect Wildlife
Never approach wildlife, feed wildlife, or interact with wildlife. It is appropriate to look at them from afar and even take pictures, but stay away! The animals are wild and it is not appropriate for you to bother them in their daily routine or change their diet. It can be unhealthy for them on multiple levels. When in an area that might have bears, or other wildlife like moose, or deer, keep your food out of reach and secured tightly so they cannot get into it. Prepare to protect yourself when you go into the backcountry or campgrounds where you might run into these types of animals. Do your research before you go. Protecting yourself from a moose is very different than protecting yourself from a rattlesnake, a wolf, or a mountain lion. And for that matter, protecting yourself from a grizzly bear is different than protecting yourself from a black bear. Know your wildlife, and prepare to watch but not touch, and protect yourself when necessary.
7. Be considerate of other visitors
This might go without saying, but when you outdoors in nature, everyone else there that day is trying to do the same thing. Being considerate of others by not being loud, blocking paths, and being rude, is a big deal. Try to camp away from others when you can and when you can’t, be respectful of your noise level. In campgrounds that house a lot of people, this may be hard, but try and be considerate of the campground’s “quiet hours” at night. Each place is different but being respectful of others goes a long way. This makes it more enjoyable for you and more enjoyable for everyone else.
Lastly, I want to touch on something else. These days, there are tons of ways to enjoy the outdoors. Whether it’s by your feet walking, your bike riding, your quad four-wheeling, or your kayak floating, there are countless ways to “be” in nature. Above all, Leave No Trace is a list of principles to help guide us in respecting the outdoors and what it has to offer, treating it well so we can enjoy it for many more lifetimes, and teaching our kids to respect what it has to offer so that they may too enjoy it for a lifetime.
Here is to, many trips, many adventures, and many vacations that inspire us to be better and keep the world a beautiful place!
P.S. If you have an inkling to go on an adventure, want to participate in the said adventure, and NOT be the family photographer that day- let me know and I will come to help you share the excitement, the glory, and love that that adventure brought you when you get home. Contact me today!