How we treat the environment now directly affects how it will look in the years to come. It may be difficult to realize in the moment, but taking care of our surroundings in everyday life is incredibly important. All wildlife – plants, animals, insects, and more – are affected when we leave things in the environment that weren’t there before. When you're hiking or camping, this becomes even more important and has an impact on the world around us. Not only does the policy of “leave no trace” benefit the wildlife of these natural places, but it also preserves their beauty for other people who visit. Below, Ranger Mac will look at what it means to respect the environment around us, and why it’s so important to leave no trace behind when you’re camping or hiking.
Plan Ahead and Be Prepared
Before you set out on your hike or camping trip, make sure you have everything ready to go and have everything you need to clean up after yourself. Here are a few tips to help you be prepared, so you leave no trace at any campsite or hiking trail you visit:
- Visit in small groups, or create smaller groups from larger ones.
- Know the rules and regulations of the areas you visit. There may be special instructions for the time of year you are there.
- Use a map and compass and/or GPS navigator to eliminate the need for using paint markings or rock cairns to mark your spot on a trail.
- Prepare for hazards, weather, or other emergencies that may come up.
- Plan your trip for a time when there is less traffic and fewer visitors.
- Repackage food to help eliminate waste.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
When you research your camping location or hiking trail, make sure the areas you choose are ones that are established as such. Don’t camp in areas that aren’t set up for it, especially areas that are overgrown with plant life. This will help ensure that you’re leaving nature as is and allowing the habitats around the campsites and hiking trails to grow and thrive like they should. In addition, you should:
- Keep your campsites small and set up activities in areas that aren’t covered in vegetation.
- Concentrate your use to existing campsites and trails.
- Walk single file on the trails to minimize the impact on the edges.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet away from lakes and streams.
Minimize the Impact of Campfires
Campfires can leave lasting impacts on the environment around them. We see this way too often with wildfires that start from a fire that was left unattended or not used properly. Here are some important campfire tips:
- Keep your fires small, so they’re easy to control and maintain.
- Use approved fire rings, pits, or bowls to create your fire.
- Burn all the wood you use down to coal or ash.
- Make sure the fire is completely out when you’re done.
- Scatter the cold ashes.
Properly Dispose of Waste
Making sure you properly dispose of the waste you create keeps the area around you free and clear of new contaminants that could harm the wildlife and their habitats. Always remember these tips to keep a clean campsite:
- Pack it in, pack it out. Make sure you pack up all trash and dispose of it when you get home.
- Pack up any toiletries and sanitary napkins as well, and dispose of them at home.
- Deposit solid fecal waste in cat-holes 6 to 8 inches deep, making sure they are at least 200 feet from streams or lakes. Make sure the cat-hole is covered properly before you leave.
- When washing yourself and dishes, take a pan of water 200 feet away from lakes and streams, and use a biodegradable soap. Scatter the used water instead of letting it pool in one spot.
Leave What You Find (Unless It’s Litter!)
No matter how cool that rock is or how neat you think it would be to create your own rock cairn, it’s important to leave nature as you find it. It might seem harmless for one person to slightly disturb one small part of nature, but the problem is that each person who visits that area might have the same idea. Over the years, small disruptions turn into big ones. For example:
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Don’t build structures, dig trenches, or set up any types of furniture from what you find along a trail or campsite.
- Help preserve the path by only examining and looking at what you find out in nature. Don’t touch or move things around outside the dedicated campsites.
Respect Wildlife and Nature
When you’re out enjoying the natural world around you, make sure that you’re respectful of the location and the creatures around you. Think of your own home. You wouldn’t like someone to come into your house and start moving things around, touching everything in sight, and changing everything without consulting you, would you? Keep this in mind when you see a neat tree or rock, or you think you may be able to take that opening off to the right of the trail and see where it goes. The Earth is home to many types of living things, and you need to be aware of that when you go out to explore the trails and campsites around you.
As you set up your hiking trail adventures and camping weekends, keep in mind where you are and what’s around you. Be respectful of other people and animals, as well as the habitat as a whole. By practicing a leave no trace policy in the wild, it'll keep these areas preserved and safe to enjoy for generations to come!