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Leave No Trace

Because leaving your mark is overrated

Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

There I was, walking past small, scattered piles of half-burnt Spam cans and unraveled rope, burned-up matches and half-full water bottles. As I continued my wake-up calls for the 30-some Boy Scouts on my outpost, I decided to make the forest a classroom and show them exactly what Leave No Trace is really about.

It’s common sense, but not always commonly practiced (just ask those Boy Scouts): LNT is making a conscious effort to reduce your impact on the land and to leave it in the same condition, if not better, for the people who come to enjoy it afterward. “One hiker venturing off the trail or one group creating a new campsite may seem of little significance,” says Noelle Grunwald, park naturalist and KY state advocate for LNT, “but the combined effects of millions of such instances leave a substantial and cumulative mark on the land.”

This outdoor ethics code has seven principles:

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Know about all regulations and special concerns for the area you plan on visiting. Try to schedule your visit during a period of lower patron usage. Repackage food to minimize waste. Orient yourself using a map and compass to avoid using paint, rock cairns or flagging.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Use established trails and campsites; camp on rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow surfaces, especially in popular areas. Camp at least 200 feet from any riverbank, lake shore or streams and remember that good camping sites are found, not made, and don't need to be large. Try finding areas where there isn't a lot of vegetation.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack it in, pack it out: leftovers, litter, trash and yes, even toilet paper and other hygiene products. Pick up spilled foods whenever possible. If you really gotta GO! walk a good 200 feet away from your camp, any water and trails. Dig a six-to eight-inch-deep cathole and bury it when you're done. Remain 200 feet away from water for washing dishes and use very minimal amounts of biodegradable soap (just because it biodegrades, doesn't mean it's natural). Scatter any water used.

4. Leave What You Find: Yeah, that rock would look awesome collecting dust in your house, but honestly it would be much better if it were left in nature for others to find and appreciate. That also goes for plants, fossils and any other natural objects you may find. Avoid messing with nature's balance by transporting non-native species and introducing them into new areas.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts: The visual impact of your campfire will be felt long after it burns out. Use lightweight stoves for cooking and candle lanterns for light. Where fires are necessary, use established fire rings, pans or mound fires and keep them small. Use sticks found on the ground that can be broken by hand. Burn all wood and coals completely to ash; then extinguish the fire completely. Scatter the ashes once cooled.

6. Respect Wildlife: After all, you're their guest. Observe from a distance and do not approach or follow animals, especially during sensitive times (mating, nesting, with their young, in winter). Never feed animals; it damages their health, alters natural behaviors and exposes them to predators and other dangers. Hang or store your food rations and trash securely; control any pets that you bring along or leave them at home.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors: No, you’re not the only person in the forest so don’t act like you are. Camp and take breaks away from other visitors. Avoid loud voices and noises; let nature's sounds prevail. Respect others and protect the quality of their experience as you would like yours to be.

Let’s take it one step further, shall we?

8. Educate Others: LNT will only be effective if we inform others as well as practice it ourselves. Become a LNT advocate, take an awareness class, teach it to groups or clubs you’re involved in and tell your friends. Don’t shy away from intervening and stopping someone else if you’re out and see them breaking the code. Preserving nature is worth the minute or two it takes to explain to that other hiker that they shouldn’t be washing their dishes in that stream because it’s harmful to the environment. Odds are, they don’t even know they’re doing something wrong.

LNT is the best way to ensure that all that’s left of your trek is footprints.

Colleen Kennedy is known to a certain group of Boy Scouts as a litterbug Nazi.

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