In honor of Earth Day, we’re diving in to the 7 principles of Leave No Trace. These rules are the ultimate guide to enjoying and protecting our natural territory. Our lands are innately wild and breathtaking. They are one of the main reasons we take to our RV’s and explore. With over 100 million visitors to the United States National Parks, it’s important to understand our impact to the outdoors and what we can do to preserve the land we love.
1. Plan Ahead
When you’re properly prepared for your adventure, you’re able to limit potential problems that could occur while on trail. Know the regulations and be aware of special concerns for the area you’re visiting. Check the weather before you go – be prepared mentally and physically for extremes and emergencies, should they arise. Always bring a trail map and try to travel in smaller groups or break up large groups.
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Seek out camping at already established campsites. If a campsite is not clearly marked, make sure you camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams. Keep your campsite contained and in areas that are free from vegetation. If in a group, disperse camp to prevent creating impacts of campsites and trails.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
Apply these principles to ALL uses of water.
If you brought it in with you, take it out. Double scan your site before heading out and collect all trash and food. Just like when staying at someone else’s home, you want to keep the place cleaner than you found it. When washing dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use a small amount of biodegradable soap. Scatter remaining dishwater. To dispose of human solid waste, dig a cathole 6-8 inches deep (and at least 200 feet from water or trails) and cover when finished. Do not leave behind hygiene products or toilet paper. Know before you go: some highly impacted areas REQUIRE you to pack in and pack out human waste.
4. Leave what you Find
Remember that saying, “take only pictures, leave only footprints?” This is an excellent way to preserve the past. Make sure to bring your camera and binoculars to capture the beauty at every angle. It is tempting to bring rocks, plants or other natural objects with you, but it does not benefit the natural environment. Do not touch or move artifacts or natural objects. Avoid building structures or digging trenches.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
Last year we all watched devastating wildfires torch the west. Some of these, tragically, were man-made. Campfires are a quintessential camp ritual but if not handled properly they can leave devastating impacts. Fires are not permitted everywhere – if you are in a fire restricted space, bring a lightweight camping stove, headlamp, or lantern.
In spaces that fire is permitted, use the established fire rings or pans. Use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand. Obtain your firewood locally (firewood not from the area can introduce pests and diseases not present.) Keep your fire small and burn all wood and coals to ash. To put out your fire completely, scatter cool ashes. Do not leave or go to sleep while a fire is burning.
6. Respect Wildlife
Think of this as a way to keep yourself and wildlife safe – do not approach animals. Observe from a distance and do not feed wildlife. Feeding wildlife is truly detrimental to the animals natural behavior and health. It can expose them to predators and other dangers. Store your food and trash properly (check if you’re required to bring a bear canister for your food). Keep your pet on a leash and under your watch at all times. If unable to do so, leave your furry friend at home.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Be mindful that you are not the only one enjoying all nature has to offer. Respect other visitors and their experience when outdoors. Yield to uphill hikers on trail or step to the downhill side of the trail when passing a group. Remember to keep your noise level at a minimum (voices, music, etc). Though not required, a friendly nod or hello to fellow hikers can go a long way.