“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are in dirt.”
Every year people hit the trails and pitch their tents in America’s vast wilderness. From forests to deserts, canyons to mountains, America’s natural landscape provides some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. John Muir was on to something when he talked about the importance of breaking out of our day to day routine to experience the unique qualities of nature, but he may not have anticipated the massive impact we would have on our environment over 100 years later. In the spirit of John Muir, let’s revere the natural wonders earth has to offer while respecting the wilderness around us.
Leave No Trace
Whether you’re a newbie to nature or a seasoned camper, the phrase you’ll hear repeatedly by rangers and conservationists will be “leave no trace.” This concept entails that you leave the campsite or trail the way you found it. Put in practice, this minimizes pollution and leaves the environment undisturbed.
Why Should We Do This?
It’s no secret that increased tourism contributes to the massive damage that’s left most of the earth’s environment in poor repair. Seemingly harmless acts like feeding animals or taking a rock or antler home as a souvenir has larger implications for the environment. After all, it’s not just you but hundreds of thousands of people who explore the world’s vast wilderness every year. If we all respect nature by minimizing our impact, we can preserve the environment for generations to come.
How Can We Do This?
The future of sustainable outdoor recreation rests on our shoulders. At the core of “leave no trace” camping is that when you leave your space, no one should ever know you were there. Stay mindful of these practices to preserve the environment for all to enjoy.
Pack it in, Pack it Out
This is pretty straight forward–don’t bring anything with you that you also won’t take with you out of your campsite. Always have enough garbage and recycling bags with you to dispose your trash. If you run out, make a quick trip to town or go to a general store (usually located near a visitor’s center or ranger station) to grab more bags.
Do Your Business the Right Way
If you’re camping in a site without local restrooms, then you need to dig “cat holes.” Cat holes are shallow holes dug in the ground that you can cover with dirt and rocks after you’re done. You should always dig your holes at least 200 feet from water in order to avoid contamination. Urinating on non-absorbent surfaces like rocks and gravel are also less likely to attract wildlife.
Shower the Way You Should
If you don’t have access to showers on site, then you need to improvise. Anytime you was clothes or cooking utensils, carry your water at least 200 feet away from the water source and use environmentally-friendly soap.
Don’t Take Anything With You
Can’t resist taking a souvenir to remember your vacation? Visit a gift shop. Don’t take pieces of the environment with you. This includes flowers, berries, rocks, antlers, or any other piece of nature you find. Any item that’s natural to the environment should stay where it is.
Be Mindful of Campfires
Irresponsibly created campfires contribute to a massive problem to the environment. The first rule: no outrageous bonfires. If you’re given a fire pit, only burn wood in the confines of the pit. If you don’t have a pit, create a low-impact mound fire. Never leave anything unburnt–reduce the wood to ashes before putting it out.
Another idea to remember: buy where you burn. Avoid bringing wood from another area to prevent the spread of nonnative bugs and diseases. All campsites provide safe wood that won’t harm the environment.
Animals are part of what makes nature great. Feeding and approaching the animals is both harmful to the animal and to you. How? Feeding animals trains them to rely on humans for food, and often this food is not suited to their diet. If they ingest foreign and processed foods, they can become ill and might die.
Always store trash securely. Clever animals may find their way into trash and ingest indigestible materials that can harm them. Trash can also suffocate them or create infectious cuts.
If you’re planning to visit bear country, be thoroughly prepared. Bears are crafty, curious, and dangerous–they have an excellent sense of smell and will get into your food if it’s not kept safe. Read up on bear canisters and research your national park or site for details.
Remember that Nature is a Privilege, Not a Right
As a human being, you are a part of nature. Thus, harming nature will ultimately harm all of humanity. Visiting the wilderness is a privilege, and the freedom to explore it comes with great responsibility. Be mindful of how you impact the environment and you will nobly contribute to a much larger effort to keep the wilderness wild.