Who’s favorite thing about hiking is finding trash on the trails?
It’s such a far cry from the truth, and yet a common issue throughout our trail networks. With the uptick of users in the front and backcountry, there needs to be an uptick in education. In Utah, the proximity to the foothills and the Wasatch front make access easy for virtually everybody in the valley. Oftentimes I see groups of people enjoying our trails who are either unaware or uneducated about the ethics of backcountry and front country use.
So, let’s start here: what is LNT?
LNT stands for Leave No Trace, a non-profit created in 1994 to educate users about their impact on the environment. At the time, their main focus was on backcountry users, to educate them on the best practices they’d discovered through scientific research. Since then, LNT has created a front country program to address the issues facing day-use facilities.
Before I dive into the main principles of Leave No Trace, I want to highlight why it’s important.
Our wilderness areas are precious, beautiful ecosystems. For as long as mankind has inhabited the earth, we’ve enjoyed the simple pleasure of venturing out to a stand of pine trees and feeling utterly at peace. As our population continues to grow, our wild areas continue to shrink as we break ground for apartment complexes, housing developments, and strip malls. Thankfully, private and public organizations, along with federal employees, are continually fighting land access and purchase battles to preserve these places.
With all the time and money that goes into protecting these primitive areas, it’s our duty, as users, to maintain and respect the land. Realistically, the more people who are venturing into alpine environments, the more people we need to proactively make minimal impacts on the environment. That’s where Leave No Trace comes in.
These seven principles aren’t rocket science, or even that hard to follow. The more closely we follow them now, the longer we’ll have to enjoy our mountain environments.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
This is as simple as checking the weather, obtaining a map of the area, and letting someone know where you’re going. It follows the line of thinking, “prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.” Most of the time you won’t need your rain jacket, but the time you do, you don’t want to have forgotten it.
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
I know that pitching a tent in the middle of a field of wildflowers sounds picturesque, but if everyone did that, we’d have no wildflower fields left to enjoy. If you’re going backpacking, chances are someone has been on that trail before you and has set up camp in a similar location you’re looking for. The emphasis is on finding already established campsites instead of creating your own. Think flat, dirt or rock surfaces at least 200ft away from any body of water.
3. Proper Waster Disposal
If your bladder is bursting, ensure you are at least 200ft away from any body of water so as not to contaminate it. If it’s your bowels, dig a 6″-8″ hole, hunker down, and fill it in with dirt when you’re done. If using toilet paper make sure to pack it out instead of burning it. Bring an extra ziplock bag for this purpose!
4. Leave What You Find
This is the hardest principle for me because I love wildflowers. I wish I could come home with a bundle after every hike. But the more I take the fewer there are for others to enjoy. The same goes for rocks, branches, and animal remnants (antlers, bones, etc.).
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
If possible, use already existing fire rings. If there aren’t any near your campsite, keep your ring small, and try to use dead and down twigs to stoke your fire. Make sure the coals are out before you go to bed, and when leaving the site, it’s recommended you scatter the cooled ashes. The motto with campfires is, “if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”
6. Respect Wildlife
It’s their habitat, we’re the visitors. Bears, Moose, Deer, Mountain Goats, Bobcats, Squirrels, all of them, we are visitors in their territory. Respect their distance. Here’s a funny video that I think is neat and relevant:
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
A lot of people head to the mountains if they’re seeking solace. Solace, however, can be quite hard to find when someone is blaring their boombox a half-mile down trail, or if someone’s over-friendly border collie won’t stop sniffing your junk while the owner thinks it’s hilarious. Think about disconnecting and not disturbing other users, it’s pretty simple. Take your boombox to the lake, and we’ll all probably be a little happier for it.
If we think of the wilderness like a co-op, where we’re all part owners and members of this incredible collective, it’s a little easier to enact these principles. You wouldn’t visit someone’s house and trash it, and the same goes for wilderness. Let’s all become more sustainable users.
Any tips and tricks for LNT practices? Leave them in the comments below!