Hiking and Backpacking Fun!
This past week I spent some time talking with the youth in my community about the concepts of leave no trace. Of course, when the subject is mentioned, everyone screams “Pack it in, Pack it out!” There is quite a bit more to the concept, although I have to admit I would be happy if more folks could remember the “Pack it in, Pack it out” phrase. I tried to break it down and make sense of it as we talked, and here are the basic thoughts I had:
• Plan ahead and Prepare for your Visit
• Leave what you Find
• Minimize Campfire Impact
• Dispose of Waste Properly
• Camp & Travel on Durable Surfaces
Regulations vary from area to area and it is important to know and understand any special data for your destination. The knowledge and planning can save you from extreme weather and other hazardous circumstances, but it can also save you from a ticket or censure. No one wants to have a negative interaction with a park official, including the park official. Knowing peak times can lend to a pleasant experience giving you a chance to aim for lulls and make your travel more secluded. Visiting in small groups also makes the visit more enjoyable and personal as well as lessening the impact on the environment. Finally, prepare with a map, compass, and GPS to avoid using cairns or flagging.
Chances are if you think it is cool I will too, and so will my kids and their kids. I am a bit selfish I know, but if we all avoid the temptation to remove objects during our travels, we all get to enjoy them a bit more. Take pictures and leave footsteps. BTW – Introducing or transporting non-native species can be damaging as well, plants or animals. Avoid building structures and furniture. Yes, I said furniture, keep in mind I am usually traveling with Boy Scouts and they love building furniture.
I love a campfire, but they cause lasting damage. Given the area and the laws, this may not be a big issue. Again a reason to know the area and how your presence impacts it. Use established fire rings, firepans, or mound type fires. Burn your fire clean, not adding trash. A fire burnt to ash has less impact than a fire not. When cooking on the trail and usually as with my Dutch ovens, I use a pizza pan to place coals on. Not only does this lessen the impact while camping, but it will also protect your concrete or brick surface at home during a BBQ or Dutch oven session.
OK, say it… “Pack it in, Pack it out!” This includes food, trash, litter, clothes (remember the Boy Scouts), toilet paper, and hygiene products. Once the conversation starts about packing out your own waste, the kids are difficult to get back on track. So talk about this subject last. When and where permissible, dispose of human waste in cat holes dug 8 inches deep and at least 200 ft. from a water source, campsite, or trail. Clean your dishes with just a touch of bio-soap and at least 200 feet from a water source.
Stay on established trails and use existing campsites. Leave as much of the area untouched as possible. In many busy districts and parks, it is the law, in open country, it is a courtesy. A durable surface can include existing trails and campsites, but also, rock beds and gravel beds, as well as dried grasses, or packed snow. By traveling on these surfaces, we protect riparian areas. Another valuable habit is to camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams. Keeping your group in a single file line also minimizes impact. Use a good water filter and stand on rocks or solid surfaces while filtering.
Remember you are a visitor, and the wildlife in the area make this their home. Not only is it an impact issue, but can also be a safety issue. Do not attempt to approach wild animals or follow them. Feeding them is also a bad idea. An animal’s digestive system can be inadvertently damaged by food not included in their typical diet. Keep your pets on a leash or leave them home. And lastly, be sensitive to wildlife during times of mating, nesting, and winter. During these times, animals are more susceptible to stress and damage.
Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience as you would want yours. A little bit of courtesy and a friendly smile go a long way. Don't forget to pack stock and step out of their way preferably to the downhill side of the trail. Be sure to leave plenty of room between you and any neighbors to preserve the wilderness experience. Take a good book and relax in the quiet. To steal a line from one of my favorite movies, "There’s room for everyone in this world if everyone makes some room."