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The Leave No Trace Philosophy
By Brian J. Lane
In my book, Hikernut’s Grand Canyon Companion, I included the following quote by Sigurd Olson: “I must leave it as beautiful as I found it. Nothing must ever happen there that might detract in the slightest from what it now had. I would enjoy it and discover all that was to be found there and learn as time went on that here perhaps was all I ever hope to know.” To me, that quote is the essence of the leave no trace doctrine. So, with that quote in mind, let’s talk about a few of the leave no trace techniques that should be followed when travelling in established parks, backcountry, and other wilderness areas…
When possible, plan on traveling in small groups to lessen your impact. Make sure everyone in the group is familiar with any rules, regulations, or special concerns for the area you intend to visit. Do not carve into or onto rock faces or trees. Do not pick the flowers; leave rocks and plants as you found them. And remember to respect other visitors enjoying the natural environment; avoid yelling and other loud noises unless there is an emergency.
Avoid trampling the native vegetation by using established trails, and camping in existing sites located on durable surfaces, (such as gravel, rock, snow, or dried grasses). Stay on the trail and don’t cut switchbacks, it causes erosion, can precipitate rockslides, plus it costs a lot of time and money to repair the trail damage. Do not build structures or dig trenches. Keep your campsite small and make sure you camp a minimum of 200 feet from streams and lakes. If campfires are allowed, keep them small, and in established fire rings, use only wood you collect from the ground. Above all else, if you do have a fire, make sure that your fire is completely out before departing the area! If your campfire escapes and starts a forest fire you will be charged with the cost of fighting the fire, including any property damage (that doesn’t include the various criminal charges that can be filed against you).
Human wastes should be buried in a cathole, dug six to eight inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, trails, or campsites. Cover and try to disguise the cathole when done. Make sure to pack out all your trash, including litter, food leftovers, toilet paper, and hygiene products. Check the area where you camped or took a break, and make sure you have left nothing behind.
Do not follow or approach wildlife - observe them from a respectful distance. Never feed the wildlife - remember the saying “Fed is Dead.” Feeding wildlife processed human foods disrupts their digestive systems, and exposes them to many others dangers. And always control your pets, or opt to leave them home.
These are just a few examples of the Leave No Trace philosophy; for more information please visit www.lnt.org.
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