You pack up your car and drive hours to your favorite trailhead. After filling up your water you start your rigorous summit hike, charging hard up the steep trail. Covered in sweat and dirt you push yourself to reach that epic view. But once you get there you notice the beautiful view is no more. Your favorite spot has been littered with trash, small footpaths have been trampled into the forest moss, and graffiti has been etched into your favorite tree. But how? Why? Who would purposely ruin such a serene place?
Sadly, the damage to the nature we all enjoy isn’t done by some evil villain, who Captain Planet and the Planeteers are battling, but instead is done by us. Everyday good-natured people hike beautiful National Parks, Public Lands, and Wilderness areas, unaware of how their simple acts of negligence impact the beauty they enjoy. In hopes of protecting these magnificent areas we must embrace a Leave No Trace attitude, constantly being aware of how we impact the lands around us. But what exactly is Leave No Trace, and how can you implement these principles when recreating outdoors?
Leave No Trace encompasses everything from picking up MOOP or Matter Out of Place, to staying on the marked trail. But why is it so important, nobody will care if I leave some crumbs or veer of the trail, right? WRONG!
In a day where social media rules our lives, public lands have seen a steady growth in popularity. While John Muir would be proud of the newfound popularity of the outdoors, he would cringe at how these new nature enthusiasts are treating the land around them. Below is a list of common mistakes new adventures make while exploring the unknown, and ways you can help correct them.
Leave No Trace with Trash
You would think picking up after yourself would be common sense for most, unfortunately as you wander the woods you will notice that, sadly, many were not taught this basic courtesy. An easy way to fix this is to always remember to pack out everything you pack in. I always carry a small trash bag for any wrappers or waste I might accumulate. However, common plastic bottles and wrappers are not the only things considered waste. Human waste must also be dealt with properly. We all use the bathroom, even girls, and what comes out isn’t nearly as nice as what goes in. Remember human waste can be poisonous, easily contaminating nearby water sources and making camp sites uninhabitable. Be sure to always bring a small shovel with you, I suggest a small garden trowel, so that you can dig a cat hole for your number one’s and two’s. A cat hole is a 6-8 inch deep hole, located at least 200 feet from any water source or habitable area. After burying your waste fill it back in with its original loose soil. The soil will help naturally compost your pee and poo. Remember, wet wipes, tampons, and even toilet paper do not compost easily, therefore should always be packed out.
Tips: Always bring an extra bag for waste! As you hike, be prepared to pick up any MOOP you see along the trail. Remember your shovel! Cat holes are only meant for the waste you naturally produce – NOT TRASH. Don’t touch anything. Seriously… don’t.
Leave it alone!
Nature is beautiful isn’t it? Nothing makes a hike more enjoyable then looking down and admiring the beautiful vegetation around us. From thick lush moss to pastel colored wild flowers, these hidden gems are sure to inspire. So why not take a little bit home to enjoy, right? Wrong! The different varieties of plants that occur naturally help maintain balance in the ecosystem. Every plant, every animal, and every rock has a purpose, and when we take these beautiful actors out of their native habitat we can cause lasting damage. Remember, you are mother nature’s guest when exploring the outdoors, and just like you wouldn’t take a painting or piece of furniture while being a guest at someone’s home, don’t take any of the beauty you see with you while outside.
Respect the Wildlife
If you have ever been to a national park you have seen the countless signs warning people to not feed or touch the animals. While we like to think these messages are for OUR safety, in fact it is for the animals. When you introduce new food sources, like feeding chipmunks granola, you can seriously disrupt the natural order of things in the animal kingdom. Animals that normally would be shy and elusive are now beginning to become pests, relying on humans for their food supply. And although chubby animals can be cute, this new tame attitude can have grave effects including a spike in bear and cougar attacks. It is also harmful for the animals to approach them or encroach there space. Getting close to animals for ‘that must have selfie’ puts the animals in extreme duress, which can lead to rash and unpredictable behavior. So remember, for your safety and theirs, please don’t touch the animals.
Tips: If you want to play with animals, get a dog. If you need to take that cute picture of the animal, invest in a zoom lens.
Stay on the Path
On our adventures through Canyonlands National Park, we learnt about an amazing geological feature unique to the area called “cryptobiotic crust”. This very delicate thin rock feature is created over the course of hundreds of thousands of years. Due to its delicate nature even one step can cause irreparable damage. Utah’s arid desert isn’t the only delicate place, in fact almost everywhere you hike is as delicate. It is for that reason that we must always stay on the trail. Even small deviations to the approved route can have lasting effects. Frequently land management teams must go out and help restore trampled areas, unfortunately despite ropes and signs, people still adventure where they shouldn’t. So regardless of the view, or awesome pic, be sure to obey the rules of the trail!
Tip: Stay on the marked trail, if you are unsure what that is be sure to bring a trail map or GPS.
Leave No Trace with Campfires
Who doesn’t love a good campfire? The smell of smoke, the crackle of burning logs, a campfire is what really pulls a camping trip together. However, despite the amazing effect it can have on you, campfires can have devastating effects on the environment. Living in the Columbia River Gorge outside of Portland, Oregon, we are reminded daily of the destruction out of control fires can have. In 2017, the Eagle Creek fire burned over 50,000 acres of land, displacing wildlife and shutting down countless hiking trails in the area for years to come. It is for this reason that we must always dedicate ourselves to controlling our fire. Be sure to keep the fire small, and within your means of control. Be sure that no dead vegetation is near, and that you have a well-built perimeter around your fire. Use only proper wood, that means no scavenging in the forest for more logs! And lastly, it goes without saying, if there is a fire ban adhere to it. The ban is in effect for a reason so don’t be that guy!
Tips: Use proper firewood and don’t scavenge. Keep the size of your fire within your ability to control it. Follow local rules, and no fires during a fire ban!
Leave No Trace by Planning Better
Planning is the foundation for an epic journey. I spend weeks planning our trips, mapping our desired routes, building realistic timelines, and acquiring the proper hiking permits. This is important because it sets you and your group up for success, helping you plan for the unexpected. With a proper plan you can avoid potential problems, for example, unknowingly having a fire during a fire ban. With a well-researched plan, you will know what is allowed and what isn’t in your area, giving you the ability to make the necessary adjustments ahead of time.
Tips: Plan, Plan, and Plan some more! Research the rules of where your headed.
We hope our tips on how you can better incorporate Leave No Trace in your life have been useful. Remember, often the damage done to our lands in unintentional, so we must educate ourselves and each other on proper outdoor practices. Together we can ensure that our beautiful lands survive for generations to come!