A guest post by Stephanie Trementozzi from Always Outdoors*
“Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints.” This often quoted statement clearly summarizes the ethic behind Leave No Trace. Nature has so much to offer us in experiences and memories, but we need to leave it untouched for others who come after us to enjoy, the same way that we have.
There are over 35 state parks in Virginia, ranging from the Atlantic Ocean to the Allegheny Mountains in western Virginia. They are situated near the ocean, rivers and lakes and offer many opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. What better place to learn and practice the principles of Leave No Trace ethics.
There are seven guidelines that form the backbone of Leave No Trace. Each one is equally important in respecting and preserving the environment.
Plan ahead and prepare. Make sure you understand any special rules or restrictions for the camping area you have chosen. It’s especially important to know if you are allowed to bring in firewood. Some areas prohibit this because of destructive insects that live in the wood.
Know the abilities of your camping companions. If you are camping with children, be especially aware of their limitations. Small children are more likely to appreciate a short hike to a small, intimate spot, like a creek bed or a waterfall. Save the big mountain top vistas for those who can appreciate them.
Meals are an extremely important area for careful preparation. Plan meals that are easily prepared and cooked quickly. If you are backpacking, the weight that you are carrying is a major concern. There are many freeze dried meals available in camping stores.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
The point here is to avoid damaging the vegetation underfoot. If you are camping in a campground with a dome tent or a large family tent, the campsites have probably been stripped of vegetation. However, if you are camping in the back country where you are choosing a brand new campsite, take special precautions to avoid undue damage to whatever is growing underfoot. One way to do this is to take multiple paths to the same spot, such as where you get your water, or where you go to the bathroom. When you leave, try to sweep the litter back over the area where you have camped.
Dispose of Waste Properly
Here’s where another popular saying comes into play. “Pack it in. Pack it out.” This refers to any and all trash and garbage that is generated from cooking. It also refers to human fecal material. Each time you eliminate fecal matter, you must dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 200 feet from the campsite and any water source.
Leave What You Find
This ethic refers not only to removing artifacts from a historical site, but also to items such as plants, flowers and rocks. This is where a camera comes in handy. If you are in the back country where you have created your own campsite, you must leave it the way you found it. That means dismantling fire rings or rocks or logs that you may placed to serve as seats.
Minimize Use and Impact of Fire
This is a hard one, because everyone loves a campfire. If you are in a campground where fire rings are already available, it will not be as important to forgo a campfire. However, a small gas grill like a Coleman portable grill, will make your cooking chores a lot easier. If you are backpacking, a lightweight backpacker’s stove is the way to go. The use of a stove for cooking greatly lessens the need for firewood.
If you see wildlife, do not “try to get closer” to take a picture or to see better. These are wild animals and should be given their distance. Have a good pair of bird watching binoculars close at hand. You can see a lot more than birds with them. Be especially alert during mating season and in the spring when the mommas are out with their babies. Do not come close. Never, ever, try to feed wild animals. If they become acclimated to human food, they will seek out other campers for a snack. This is a death sentence for the animal.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Leave your radios, cd’s and MP3 players at home. People go camping to enjoy the quiet. Try to keep your groups small and if possible, avoid heavily used holiday weekends. If you are camping in the back country, camp out of site of the trail. And of course, when you break camp, restore it to its former state.
These are some simple, common sense guidelines, that if followed, will provide an excellent camping experience for you and for those who come after you.
*Stephanie Trementozzi is the publisher of www.always-outdoors.com which posts articles on all aspects of outdoor life. She lives in Culpeper, Virginia and enjoys hiking in the nearby mountains.