The “tl; dr” (too long; didn’t read) is below.
Growing up in California, I think it’s ingrained in you to be an environmentalist. Since my first camping trip at 8 months old, my mom always taught me to be respectful of nature. I recall being at a camp hosted by the Audubon Society where I learned about composting and other wonderful things (I can still sing the song we learned about compost. I can’t remember breakfast, but the song I’ve got).
I’ve since learned the phrase, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints”. I’ve also since learned that when people don’t follow that little rule, it’s something that can trigger rage in me. I went to a red sand beach in Hawaii, where I saw tourists filling up baggies of red sand. I’d loudly announce in their direction, while pretending to talk to the person I was with, “THERE WON’T BE ANY RED SAND BEACHES IF EVERYONE TAKES SOME HOME”.
I currently live near the beach and I hike a lot. In both places, I see trash. And it makes me really sad. I bring an extra trash bag, just to pick up the trash I see and pack it out to dispose of properly.
Leave No Trace is something I’ve lived my whole life without realizing it. I get that it isn’t something that everyone learns. So I’m writing this blog post, in the hopes it will help. Leave No Trace is based on seven principles. There aren’t any strict rules, and the principles can be interpreted differently, depending on who you ask. But here they are, generally speaking:
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces. In regards to hiking, that means stay on the trail. Many places, particularly here in the White Mountains, have fragile alpine vegetation. Stepping off the path can mean killing that vegetation. Worse, once it’s been tramped down, more and more people think THAT is the path, and then poof. No more vegetation. Obviously, it isn’t always possible to stay on the path (like when you have to pee), but do your best not to disrupt the surrounding area.
- Dispose of waste properly. Pack it in, pack it out. Your mom isn’t here to clean up after you. You brought that baggie of Skittles? Great! Eat them and then take the baggie out with you and dispose of it properly in a trash bin at home. You brought your dog on the trail? Great! Pick up the dog’s poop and take it out with you. You need to poop? Great! There are rules and regulations and guidelines on that, please follow them. No one wants to go off trail for their own pooping needs and step in yours.
- Leave what you find. AS YOU FOUND IT. Don’t take home a rock as a souvenir. Don’t take home red sand or sea shells. Don’t carve your initials in a tree. Don’t use chalk or paint to write on a cliff “I ❤ Nature”. Don’t scatter fake flower petals on the trail. Sadly, I’ve seen ALL OF THESE THINGS. Not only are you ruining the experience for others, but you’re also potentially ruining the ecology of the area.
- Respect wildlife. First of all, because animals can kill you. Secondly, even the ones that can’t kill you, CAN be hurt by you messing with them or even feeding them. I saw tourists feeding Cheez-its to prairie dogs. I’m fairly certain Cheez-its are not part of a prairie dog’s normal diet.
- Be considerate of other visitors. I honestly can’t even believe this needs to be stated, but apparently it does. Basic human respect. Like maybe don’t play your boombox on the loudest setting while you’re hiking through the woods? (Yep, I’ve seen it).
- Minimize campfire impacts. I can’t even make this one up, once I was camping in Yosemite and a car arrived late at night. First, they used their car headlights to illuminate their campsite (so much for being considerate of other visitors). Then, by the light of their car, they proceeded to CUT DOWN A TREE (so much for leave what you find). In Yosemite. THEN, they laid it over the campfire ring and tried to light it. Now, saying it even would light (it didn’t, it was JUST CUT DOWN and therefore very green), it was hanging out of the campfire ring. You know that thing meant to keep the fire in check. In California. Known for wildfires. Sigh. Lastly, please douse your fire is out before you leave.
- Plan ahead and prepare. Know the rules and regulations for where you’re going. The White Mountains have different camping rules for above treeline versus below. Know that before you go. Saying “I didn’t know” won’t help you avoid a fine.
If you want to know more about Leave No Trace, go here.
So the “tl;dr”: Take only photos, leave only footprints, and don’t be a dumbass.