Heading Outdoors? Practice “Leave No Trace” With These Dos and Don’ts

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Have you heard about Leave No Trace? Aimed at minimizing human impact on nature, the seven principles of Leave No Trace give us some concrete habits to incorporate into our time outdoors. KAG contributor, Liene, has some specific do’s and don’ts so that families can “Leave No Trace” when they adventure outdoors.

Trash litters the entrance to Bald Rock Heritage Preserve
Litter at the entrance to Bald Rock Heritage Preserve, Photo Credit: Ali Beatty

“Loved to death” is a phrase we have been hearing more often about some of the most stunning places in our region; Max Patch on the Appalachian Trail and Chimney Tops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are only a couple of places that have required intense clean-up efforts, even closures due to abuse and over-use. But the effects are being felt much closer to home as well, as places like the State Parks, Lake Conestee Nature Preserve, and Upstate National Forest facilities enact closures, policy changes, visitor caps, and in the case of Congaree National Park, an implementation of a lottery system during synchronous firefly season to limit disturbance to critical habitat and try to reverse harmful user trends.

We need to be better stewards of our region if we want our children to be able to experience the wonders of the natural world, and the tenets of “Leave No Trace” are a great place to start. You may have heard the acronym “LNT” – this refers to the Seven Principles of the Leave No Trace outdoor ethic, which provide a framework of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors.

Why practice LEAVE NO TRACE?

While we enjoy the natural world, Leave No Trace teaches us how to minimize our impacts. Following the basic principles of LNT helps prevent the trashing of our natural areas, water pollution, damage to trails, the harming of wildlife and overcrowding, all while connecting youth to nature and providing enjoyable outdoor adventure. LNT will not cost you a cent – these are all free things you can do while enjoying the great outdoors as you normally would! It just means taking a few extra steps when preparing for your next adventure, as well as thinking things through while out and about.

Although Leave No Trace has its roots in backcountry settings, it has been adapted so that the seven principles can be applied anywhere and to almost every recreational activity — from remote wilderness areas, to local parks and even in your own backyard.

Elk grazing in the near the woods

How can I practice LEAVE NO TRACE with my children?

The 7 Principles – Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics website details these seven tenets, with invaluable info on each of them. Here are the 7 Principles, and seven ways you and your family can recreate responsibly!

1. Plan ahead and prepare, looking into the regulations, weather, and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.

Do: Schedule your trip to avoid high times of use, and have a Plan B in case the trailhead/park is full or the park doesn’t allow pets and you’ve got your new puppy along.

Don’t: Get lost! Bring a map as back-up to your navigating app, and know what the hazards will be in the area you are visiting. Is there a lot of recent bear activity? A burn ban? Is it gnat season? Knowing these things in advance can help you plan your time outdoors so that it is relaxed and enjoyable.

Did you know that building rock cairns is considered vandalism in most of our local parks? Moving rocks around can lead to resource damage by exposing soil to wind and water erosion, and also disturbs the many critters that make their home in the protected underside of a rock. Only rarely are cairns used to mark trails in the Upstate; most often you’ll see trees “blazed”, or painted with a line to mark the trail.

Rock piles on a trail, leave no trace

2. Travel & camp on durable surfaces, protecting our trails, waterways, and fragile ecosystems.

Do: Stay on the trail and utilize switchbacks, avoiding shortcuts which often cause water to wash out plants/soil and erode gullies.

Don’t: Hike on muddy trails; wet trails are fragile, and muddy/icy trails can be slippery and dangerous for kiddos.

Did you know that trying to avoid getting mud on your shoes and going around muddy spots causes what is called “trail braiding”? This widening of trails contributes to both compaction and erosion of soil. Check out this article on hiking in wet weather!

3. Dispose of waste properly – pack it in, pack it out!

Do: Pack a bag for your trash, and do a quick check of your campsite/trail rest stop before you leave. Apple cores, spilled trail mix and paper are still garbage – they bring animals into increased contact with humans leading to wildlife becoming sick & diseased, getting hit by cars, or becoming problem animals.

Don’t: Leave human waste and toilet paper lying around! Not only is it stinky and unsightly, but it degrades our water quality when bacteria enter our waterways!

Did you know that Googling “how to pee and poop in the woods” will bring you hours of entertainment?

4. Leave what you find, preserving cultural/ historic artifacts and leaving rocks and plants as you found them.

Do: Leave flowers for those who come after you to enjoy. This also ensures that our rare plants have the opportunity to reseed for healthier populations.

Don’t: transport firewood, as you can introduce pests/disease to new areas. (For more info, visit Dontmovefirewood.org)

Did you know that it is illegal to collect plants, animals and artifacts from most of our public lands?

5. Minimize campfire impacts!

Do: Use a cook stove for cooking and utilize established fire rings where fires are permitted, making sure your fire is completely out when finished.

Don’t: Be the person to start a wildfire with your Insta-photo-op!

Did you know nearly 85% of wildfires are caused by humans?

6. Respect wildlife by observing from a distance, and never feed wild animals!

Do: Respect trail closures and barriers! Sure, it’s tempting to climb the fence to get that great photo out on the ledge, but many times those barriers aren’t only there to protect you from yourself, they also help minimize effects on nesting areas and protect fragile ecosystems.

Don’t: Stack rocks in rivers! Moving rocks and creating dams to make chutes or pools in a stream causes serious damage to the delicate river ecosystem; aquatic plants and animals make their homes on, under, and around these rocks, and when people move the rocks, the nest is destroyed and the eggs and young fish die.

Did you know that waterfalls have some of the most sensitive plant ecosystems in their spray zone? When you climb up the rocks on the sides of waterfalls, you are not only endangering yourself (and possibly the lives of the first responders who will have to carry you out), but you are inadvertently creating social trails in the spray zone, encouraging erosion, and possibly helping to create slippery, unsafe areas.

7. Be considerate of other visitors.

Do: Follow social distancing guidelines as suggested by medical experts and local authorities.

Don’t: Lower the quality of other visitors’ experience by playing loud music, allowing off-leash pets, and leaving behind your trash.

Did you know that there is a hierarchy of right of way considered proper hiking etiquette?  Check out this National Park Service article on hiking etiquette. In general, hikers coming uphill have the right of way, bicyclists should yield to hikers & horses, and hikers should yield to horses and other pack stock. As a mom hiking with small kids, I yield to really just about everyone; it’s considered courteous to yield to other hikers who are setting a faster pace.

LEAVE NO TRACE principle #8

Wait, I said there were only 7 principles… Well, there are, but in the last decade another tenet is being considered for inclusion, concerning geotagging. While LNT is not anti-geotagging, serious consideration should be given to whether or not a location is shared with every photo.

Do: Post a photo that specifies your location along with appropriate Leave No Trace information, as that is a great way to invite people into the outdoors. A geotag can empower people to research safety measures, learn about the location’s history and culture, and find out what to expect when visiting.

Don’t: Post the location of places that can’t handle increased visitation: the site of a rare flower, a sensitive waterfall ecosystem, a protected wildlife area.

Did you know that natural areas across the state are seeing an increased amount of poaching, with rare animals and flowers being targeted due to their perceived value to collectors? If you observe illegal activity on public lands, please contact SC DNR Operation Game Thief – see something, say something! SCDNR – Operation Game Thief

Enjoy your world, leave no trace!

There are a growing number of examples of places suffering from the negligent attitudes of visitors, such as Bald Rock Heritage Preserve – once home to protected plant species such as Piedmont ragwort and grass-of-parnassus, but today mostly housing graffiti, broken glass, cigarette butts and illegal fire rings. Or Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve, whose namesake sandstone rock was toppled in 2013 by a combination of erosion and visitors carving their initials into the base. Luckily, the colony of rare Oconee Bell flowers growing in Devils Fork State Park is thriving after State Park officials installed boardwalks and fencing along the Oconee Bell Trail to keep visitors from trampling the tiny flower, but other sites such as Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve has seen theft of plants over the last decade.

For my family it comes down to is this – the natural areas in the Upstate have given me so much in the last twenty years: trail time with the man who would become my husband and the father of my children, later an escape to the woods with a fussy baby, exercise to help get back into shape after a couple more kids, and most recently therapy in the form of time outdoors as our family struggles to retain some sense of normalcy in an anything-but-normal year. In return for all of that, the very least I can do is bring a trash bag when we go out, to help leave each place a little better than we found it!

Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time. For future generations to have the opportunity to enjoy our beautiful natural areas like you and I do, to see undisturbed landscapes and enjoy an abundance of wildlife, leave everything as you found it — it’s really that easy. Enjoy Your World. Leave No Trace!

For a ton of resources on LNT, visit the Center for Outdoor Ethics LNT website. Research and Resources – Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (lnt.org) The resources there include Bigfoot’s Playbook, a collection of activities, games and initiatives that explore Leave No Trace principles, as well as youth education info and ways to get involved!

This post was first published on the blog Femme au Foyer. Femme au foyer: Leave No Trace

Liene
About the Author
Mother of four young boys, Liene is constantly on the move since returning to Greenville in 2012. Whether she’s exploring the state parks and natural areas of the Carolinas or teaming up with other moms to organize activities for the kids, she’s always searching for the next adventure in the Upstate. For everything from hiking, travel, cooking and crafts to multicultural & global education posts, visit her blog, http://FemmeauFoyer2011.blogspot.com.

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