Leave No trace?
What does that mean? Why is it important?
Imagine your childhood. Think about when you would play outside for hours on end. Maybe your favorite camping trip. Your favorite hiking trail. Or your favorite park to visit.
We never really had to (or currently have to) think or worry about the wilderness disappearing — it is always there when we want to go outdoors. This is now, however, a worry that we have for our future generations. “Leave No Trace” quite literally means that if you go outdoors, you need to aim to leave no trace of you being there. One common misconception that we tend to think is “well I am just one person and cannot make a difference.” The problem is that when everyone has that mentality, then it actually does make a big difference. If we can shift this mentality to “I will do my part to leave no trace”, then this will also make a huge POSITIVE difference.
(1) Plan ahead and Prepare
- Research the regulations for where you are planning to visit. Most give specific instructions for what you can bring, where you can go, or how long you can stay.
- Minimize waste by repackaging your food beforehand.
- If backpacking, consider taking a lightweight backpack stove for one pot meals instead of using a fire to Leave No Trace. One pot meals and light snacks create the least amount of waste, so take that into consideration when planning out your trip.
(2) Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- This means to travel on designated trails or camp on where vegetation is absent such as: designated campsites, rock, gravel, sand, dry grasses or snow. The goal is to minimize the damage as much as possible by not altering the natural areas. Keep the sites small and if you move rocks or twigs to camp, make sure to move them back before you leave.
- Make sure to camp at least 200 ft from a water source, such as lakes, ponds, streams, or rivers.
- Stay on designated trails! If you are traveling with a group, make sure to walk single file through the trails and not disturb the unmarked areas. This also includes when it is muddy! It is important not to expand the trail, so if need be, walk through the mud.
(3) Dispose of Waste Properly
- If you brought it in, you NEED to bring it out. This means trash, leftover food, or litter. I know that oftentimes we might think that throwing out an apple core or orange peel is okay because it’s “natural” and will decompose, but it is actually dangerous to wildlife because that will attract them to places they usually might not go (such as campsites) or food they do not eat in the wild. A raccoon’s diet does not consist of leftover BBQ and baked beans, but when it’s tossed on the ground, they will begin sticking around the area because they know there will be food that they do not need to hunt for.
- Yes.. human waste does fall into this category. If you can, use the facilities whenever possible, but we understand that sometimes you will not have the luxury of using a toilet when you’re 5 miles deep in a trail. In this case, you will want to make a cathole at least 200ft from a water source, campsite, or trails to avoid contaminating the water and possibly spreading diseases. This entails digging about a 6″x 6″ hole, doing your business, and covering it back up with the original soil.
- Make sure to bring a bag of some sort to pack out the toilet paper or any hygiene products you might have used or bury it in the cathole if biodegradeable.
- This also applies to your pet’s droppings. Other animals eat dog poo, which exposes them to bacteria.
- When washing dishes or yourself, make sure to be 200ft away from a water source and use the least amount of biodegradable soap as possible. When you are done washing your dishes, scatter the water so that it does not all accumulate in one spot. Even though the soap is biodegradable, it is still a foreign substance to that area.
(4) Leave What You Find
- I know a leaf, rock, or flower might be beautiful or very unique, but it is important to leave the natural, cultural, and historic structures, objects or artifacts. You might think that by taking one or two wouldn’t make a difference, but if everyone who visited that area had the same mindset, then that one or two flowers actually turns into 20 to 30 being picked or taken. It is also illegal to take natural objects in most protected places.
- It is also VERY important not to introduce/transport non-native species. This typically results in an invasive species that will take over the native area because it has no natural predators. Kudzu, Privet, and some species of honeysuckle are invasives that were introduced to be used as an ornamental and to reduce soil erosion, but they took off spreading like wild fire. Some species from East Tennessee are not native to West Tennessee, so it is important not to take or introduce any species to the wild or even your home.
- Take pictures instead of taking them.
- Do not. Do not. Do not mark on trees.
(5) Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Try to switch to a lightweight stove for cooking instead of a campfire.
- If you do build a campfire, remember, a true Leave No Trace campfire should leave no evidence. So make sure you make a small fire, using dead or down wood that can be broken. If there is a fire ring established, make sure to use it.
- “Buy it where you burn it.” You should buy firewood at a local source or gather it where it is allowed. You should NOT bring any from your home or anywhere that is not the area that you are camping.
- Know the fire restrictions in the area you are at and the time of year you are planning on going.
(6) Respect Wildlife
- Observe wildlife from a distance and stay quiet while observing.
- Do not touch or feed wildlife. If you come across a wounded or sick animal, you need to notify a ranger or game warden, but do not tend to it yourself.
- Do NOT toss your food scraps. This attracts wildlife to areas, which will lead to them relying on non-native food and also creating a false sense that human interactions are safe.
- When you are camping, make sure to set up at least 200ft from a water source because the water source should be left undisturbed as much as possible for the animals that use it.
- Remember, you are a visitor in THEIR home.
(7) Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Make sure to manage your pet if you decide to take them with you!
- Treat others as you would want to be treated.
- Avoid contributing to noise pollution as much as possible- includes talking loudly, playing music out loud, traveling in large groups, using electronics that makes sound.
- Consider traveling during the off seasons to avoid running into large groups on holidays or busy weekends. This allows you to have more privacy, as well as making less impact on the area you are visiting.
In order for everyone to enjoy the great outdoors, we all need to learn how to take care of it. We all have a responsibility to preserve and protect it so that future generations will be able to experience the wilderness as we once did. So on your next trip to the wilderness, remember to LEAVE NO TRACE!
Check out more about Leave No Trace here.