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Don’t be a Jerk! A Primer on Leave no Trace Principles

While hiking in Hal Scott Preserve I came across a situation that bothered me enough that I felt I needed to make a full post out of it. I was walking along a portion of the Preserve that is off limits to camping. As I rounded a corner, I saw a couple of chairs and a still smoldering fire. I hadn’t seen many people that day and thought I would at least ask the campers how the night went. As I got closer I didn’t see anyone. A little closer and I saw what was going on. A group of people had spent the night partying and just left in the morning. There were beer and liquor bottles everywhere and an empty gas can tossed to the side. The gas can made sense because earlier I had heard a dirt bike in the distance. That must have been how they made their way in and then left.

Live trees cut down

On top of the trash, they had cut down a number of young pine trees for their fire. Many of the pines were laying on the ground unburned. Looking at the mess I knew I couldn’t just leave it there. I moved all the wood to the forest and gathered all the bottles and cans. I ended up with 3 grocery bags full of recyclables and the gas can. I packed away my camera and walking stick before grabbing the bags and walking the remaining 3 miles back to the parking lot.

During the first part of the hike I had seen 4 deer, but none were close enough to get a good picture of. To add insult to injury as I was walking along with the bags of trash I came across a 4 point buck with its back turned to me and its head in the bushes. I stood there for a second watching it, before it turned around stared back and jumped off. Had I not needed to pick up after those people I would have been able to get a great picture of that buck before it ran off.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t need to be told how wrong it was for those people to leave a still hot fire and all that trash in the woods. After seeing what these people did I thought it would be a good idea to reiterate the 7 key principles of Leave No Trace.

Leave no Trace

For those of you who don’t know, Leave No Trace is a member driven organization that focuses on teaching people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. Below are their 7 key principles:

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.
    • In popular areas:
      • 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.
      • In pristine areas:
      • 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 non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, 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.

Respect Wildlife

  • 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.

If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out the Leave no trace website. They have an online awareness course as well as a traveling course. Not only will it make your camping trips more enjoyable, but you’ll also feel better knowing you’re minimizing your impact on the environment.

Have you ever come across campers violating these principles? What did you do and how did their behavior make you feel? Let me know in the comments.

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Have fun out there!

6 thoughts on “Don’t be a Jerk! A Primer on Leave no Trace Principles”

    1. Definitely. Sometimes the locals are the worst offenders. They feel that since they live in the area they can do what they want. Nice work bringing the garbage bags. Its sad that you need to bring them knowing you’ll find trash along the way.

  1. I was just thinking about those cans and wondering if you took them to the local police department, got the fingerprints off of them, and identified the litterbugs, couldn’t they face a hefty fine? Just an idea…of course that would take even more time and effort, detracting from the hike. But wouldn’t those ignorami be pissed!!!

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