Leave No Trace Made Easy



If you’ve been to a Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts meeting, attended a wilderness summer camp, or participated in the Great American Backyard Campout, you may already be familiar with the principles of Leave No Trace (LNT). These valuable principles aren’t just useful in the woods, they can be applied in every environment. This week, we’re exploring Leave No Trace so our collective small steps can lead to big changes in the natural world (and in ourselves)!

For nearly 25 years, The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has educated people about their recreational impact on nature and how to minimize our impact on the land. Leave No Trace (LNT) principles first began when wilderness exploration made major gains in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. However, LNT gained greater momentum when it became a joint effort between the United States Forest Service and the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) nationwide.

Let’s break down the seven principles and why they’re important:

1-LNT-2.jpgPlan Ahead and Prepare
Get started by asking yourself these questions: “Who, what, when, where, why, and how?” Do I and my fellow hikers have the necessary skills to enjoy our trip safely? Where do we want to go? What is the geography like? What is the weather forecast? How much food do we want to take? Where will we pack our trash? Proper planning lowers your risk and the impact on your natural surroundings. As a part of your plan, you’ll want to notify others of your route and return time.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Have you ever noticed a barren area along a popular hiking path? This happens when visitors trample vegetation beyond recovery, leading to unhealthy and undesirable campsites, trails, and soil erosion. Before you head out, check with a Park Ranger or do a little research about areas that are already intended for camping. If you’re camping for multiple days, move camp daily to avoid permanent impacts to the land.  Always choose the most durable surfaces available: compacted soil, rock, sand, gravel, dry grasses, or snow.

1-LNT-3.JPGDispose of Waste Properly
Pack it in; pack it out. That’s right! If you brought it into nature, you also need to take it home with you when you go. Check your campsite for spilled food, trash, and accept the challenge of packing out all of your leftover food and litter. (This includes human waste, which we’ll explore more next week.

Leave What You Find
Parents often say to children, “Look with your eyes and not your hands.” This is essential to remember in the woods, too. Allow others a sense of discovery by leaving plants, animals, rocks, and archaeological artifacts as you found them.
Another helpful tip to remember is that good campsites are found, not made. Avoid altering a campsite, damaging trees, creating new fire rings, building structures, or digging trenches. “Pay it forward” by leaving nature as you found it for the next person, and all the creatures that live there, to enjoy.

1-LNT-4.jpgMinimize Campfire Impacts
Campfires are one of the best parts of enjoying an evening in the woods. Yet many forested areas have been degraded by overusing an area for fires. Low-impact campers eliminate the need for firewood by cooking with lightweight camp stoves. If you do build a fire, use an existing campfire ring with wood you bring or select downed and dead wood for a small fire. Remember to burn all wood down to ash and pack out all unburned trash and food. Most importantly, be certain your fire is out and cold when you go to bed or leave camp. Check with a park ranger or the forest service to find out if there are any fire restrictions or burn bans in the area where you plan to camp. THIS is a great resource.

Respect Wildlife
In the woods, wildlife deserves respect from humans when we visit their home. We are their guests. Loud noises and quick movements are stressful to animals, so it’s best to observe them from afar. Give them plenty of room, especially during birthing, nesting, and breeding seasons. Also, keep all food and garbage securely stored away from animals to help prevent them from picking up any bad habits. Never feed wildlife. Keep wildlife wild.

1-LNT-5.jpgBe Considerate of Other Visitors
If we respect each other’s outdoor experience, it will be a quality experience for everyone. It’s as easy as obeying the Golden Rule. A few helpful tips: Hike and camp in small groups. Allow everyone to enjoy the sounds of nature by keeping radios, barking dogs, cell phones, and loud talking to a minimum. Choose campsites away from other groups and camp quietly to help ensure everyone’s peace and solitude in nature.

HERE are some helpful activities to share when teaching LNT principles to large groups. Check out this calendar for LNT events near you.

Next week, we’ll share more helpful ideas supporting the seven principles of Leave No Trace, as well as ways to teach LNT to children.  


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