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You have probably heard of “Leave No Trace” when it comes to anything outdoors, but what does that really mean? The Center for Outdoor Ethics promotes seven principles designed to minimize our impact and preserve our cherished outdoor spaces. The LNT philosophy does not just apply to backcountry wilderness areas, but can be used anywhere – from parks to National Forests to your own backyard.
Planning is essential for safety as well as minimizing damage to the land. If you encounter unexpected conditions, it can be easy to get into tricky situations and put both yourself and the environment at risk. Consider things like your trip expectations, the skill level of those participating, knowledge of the terrain, equipment needed, weather conditions, group size, and planned activities (including meals).
The goal is to move through and enjoy natural areas without causing damage. One of the best ways to do this is to stay on identifiable routes, roads, and trails. Surfaces like rock, sand, and gravel are much hardier than vegetation and soil. It is also best practice to camp at least 200 feet away from water.
The idea of “pack it in, pack it out” applies here, but it is more than just trash. Many people forget to pack out food waste in addition to trash, but this is especially important to carry out with you to reduce impacts on wildlife. This principle also includes human waste. In most cases, burying it six to eight inches deep and at least 200 feet away from any water source is sufficient, however in many wilderness areas you are required to pack it out along with all of your other trash.
Just like it says! Leave the rocks and trees and water as you found it. This means not digging trenches for tents, carving your initials into trees, or taking artifacts you may find. And while picking the occasional wildflower is generally fine, consider the impact before you pick…if this is a high traffic area and everyone picks a few flowers, the impact will be much more significant.
Campfires are the gold standard while camping and, in many cases, perfectly acceptable to build. Be sure to check for any fire restrictions in the area you are planning to visit and always consider how and where you build your fire. The best place to build a fire is in an existing fire ring or portable fire pan. Be sure your fire is completely out before going to bed or leaving the campsite. Put fires out with water, not dirt and ensure that it is completely doused. If you hold your hand two inches from the firepit and still feel heat, you need to keep applying water and raking coals.
Considerate campers observe wildlife from afar, give animals a wide berth, store food securely, and keep garbage and food scraps away from animals. Remember that you are a visitor to their home. When hiking, keep dogs on leash or under control and minimize loud sounds (one exception is in bear country where a little noise can keep you from startling them).
In other words, be nice and show some respect! Finding solitude and enjoying the natural environment is pretty universal and keeping your impact on others in mind is key. Excessive noise, uncontrolled pets, and a lack of respect for your surroundings all detract from the experience.