We’ve all been there: You pull up to your campsite only to have the exciting thrill of arrival dampened by half-burned food wrappers and metal cans in the fire pit, trash scattered around the picnic table, or worse, used toilet paper by yonder bush. Whether you choose a different site or pick up the garbage and throw it away, it’s a bummer.
This doesn’t have to be the norm.
With the surge in new campers hitting the mountains this past year, having basic shared guidelines about how to behave in the outdoors is critical.
Of course, it begins with informing people about basic campground and trail rules (don’t feed or approach wildlife, don’t cut limbs from trees for your fire, use bear boxes, follow common campground courtesy, etc.). But the bigger solution is to instill a common culture of leaving your campsite — and the wilderness — cleaner than you found it, and teaching your children to do the same.
Guidelines for ethical visits to the great outdoors were developed, and are shared, by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (800-332-4100, http://lnt.org), a 26-year-old international educational program based in Boulder. The program was created to provide directions for minimizing our impact on the lands we love so much.
The increasing number of people exploring the country’s mountains, deserts, canyons and other wildlands presents a challenge, LNT executive director Dana Watts said.
But the spike in interest is a positive shift, she said.
“More people are getting outdoors, including more diverse groups, people that are new to the outdoors,” Watts said in a telephone interview. “It presents challenges,” she said, but “we believe that it’s a great thing that more people want to make that connection to nature and outdoor spaces.”
That said, Watts reported that “nine out of 10 people don’t have the necessary information, skills and techniques to leave no trace — there is a lot of learning to be had.”
To that end, the center developed a simplified, easy-to-follow “LNT Basics” kit that explains each of the seven principles outlined to guide our time in nature.
Watts stressed the increased importance of Principle No. 1: Plan ahead, know before you go and be prepared. This is crucial right now when it comes to waste disposal, since many public bathrooms have been closed due to the pandemic.
Also, always plan to “pack it in, pack it out” (take all of your trash with you when you leave) to ease your trash impact on park managers.
Additionally, said Watts, with more people going outdoors, it’s important to help make our favorite trails and campgrounds inclusive to all.
She said we need to always ask ourselves, “How can we make everyone feel welcome in the outdoors? How can we use kindness to make people feel welcome?”
This can mean simply saying hello to fellow hikers on a trail, or it can mean supporting organizations that help grant access to the outdoors to more diverse groups of people.
LEAVE NO TRACE
Follow these guidelines to create the most inclusive experience in nature for everyone and to help ensure the environment remains healthy for all living things.
Learn more at lnt.org
PLAN AHEAD AND PREPARE
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns, or flagging.
TRAVEL AND CAMP ON DURABLE SURFACES
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
DISPOSE OF WASTE PROPERLY
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in “catholes” dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND
- Preserve the past: Examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting nonnative species.
- Do not build structures or furniture, or dig trenches.
MINIMIZE CAMPFIRE IMPACTS
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHER VISITORS
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
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(Copyright: The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.)