Leave No Trace and Why It Matters
Every year National Parks, State Parks, and outdoor areas see more and more visitors, Rocky Mountain National Parks alone saw 4.5 million visitors in 2018 with a 3.5% increase from the previous year! With all of these new visitors, it's important to understand the seven principles of Leave No Trace and why they matter. The first principle is Plan Ahead. This principle is important because when you plan ahead, you keep yourself and those you are traveling with safer, minimize damage to the land, and you have an overall more enjoyable experience!
When you are planning a trip, especially to a place that you've never been to before, it's important to apply this principle. You can do this by identifying the skill levels of those who are attending the trip, map out where you will be, make sure everyone knows what to do in an emergency situation, choose appropriate equipment and clothing, and plan activities that match the skill levels of everyone who is attending.
There are some key things to consider while planning a trip, like weather, terrain, restrictions and regulations, private land, food consumption, and group size. For instance, if you are planning a Colorado mountain top elopement or intimate wedding, it's important to research the area where you want to go because in the summertime, Colorado is notorious for mid afternoon thunderstorms and you wouldn't want to be caught on top of a 14er in a thunderstorm! In that same respect, it's important to know that Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park is closed from about October-May every year and some places close their main entrances in the winter. These things are important to know so that you can plan your dream wedding accordingly (and have the best elopement or intimate wedding ever!) The second principle is Travel on Trails. The goal with this principle is to provide a trail that will cause the least amount of damage to the landscape as possible. Travel damage occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond recovery. The resulting barren area leads to soil erosion and the development of undesirable trails. By sticking to the trails that have been made for the traveler, we are less likely to scar the land. Off trail travel is affected by surface durability and group size. Surface durability is broken down into five groups: Rock, sand, and gravel which is highly durable. Ice and snow which the effect of travel across these surfaces is temporary, making them good choices for travel assuming good safety precautions are followed and the snow layer is of sufficient depth to prevent vegetation damage. Vegetation which the resistance of vegetation to trampling varies, but avoid vegetation whenever possible, especially on steep slopes where the effects of off-trail travel are magnified. Living soil, like cryptobiotic soil, for example, is extremely delicate and essential to desert landscape and travel across living soil should only be done when absolutely necessary. Walk on rocks or other durable surfaces if you must travel off-trail. Desert puddles and mud holes should not be walked through as they are also home for tiny desert life. Camp on durable surfaces is possibly the most important thing to consider when utilizing the outdoors. A decision about where to camp should be based on information about the level and type of use in the area, the fragility of vegetation and soil, the likelihood of wildlife disturbance, an assessment of previous impacts, and your party’s potential to cause or avoid impact. Avoid camping close to water and trails, and select a site which is not easily visible to others. This principle is important and applicable to those who are planning their elopement or intimate wedding in the great outdoors because chances are, you will be using these trails to get to your ceremony locations, for your romantic photos, or using campsites for your weekend elopement. The third principle is Dispose of Waste Properly. First things first...human waste. It's not fun to talk about but it's one of the most important factors of this principle! Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid pollution of water sources, avoid the negative implications of someone else finding it, minimize the possibility of spreading disease and maximize the rate of decomposition. There are three simple rules when it comes to your duty. First, find a spot at least 200 steps from a water source, dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and bury your waste, and pack out toilet paper. Some places require you to pack out your waste, definitely do your research to find out if the location you want to elope at requires this! Pack it in, Pack it out! Garbage that is not completely disposed of (campfire) or buried will still attract wildlife. Keeping plastic ziplock bags on you is a good idea for packing out your waste and other peoples, too. When you're eloping in the outdoors, it's important to dispose of your waste properly. The fourth principle is Leave What You Find. This is a big one. Especially in National Parks. This means leaving rocks, plants, artifacts, and other objects exactly how you found them - this includes wildflowers. It is illegal to remove or disturb archeological sites, historic sites or artifacts such as pot shards, arrowheads, structures and even antique bottles found on public lands. As tempting as it may be to want to take home a natural souvenirs from your intimate wedding, it is actually illegal and has environmental consequences! The fifth principle is Minimize Campfire Impact. For warmth or for food? If you are planning to cook your meals over a campfire, consider using a camp stove instead! They are fast, flexible and eliminate firewood availability as a concern in campsite selection. Stoves operate in almost any weather condition. However, you can lessen your campfire impact by following these practices: Camp in areas where wood is abundant. Choose not to have a fire in areas where there is little wood at higher elevations, in heavily used areas, or in desert settings. The sixth principle is Respect Wildlife. This one is a big one for me personally. I grew up in Montana and always heard of people putting their kid on a buffalo, or hitting a wolf with their car and driving away, or getting a little too close to an elk for the sake of a picture. Learn about wildlife through quiet observation. Do not disturb wildlife or plants just for a “better look.” Observe wildlife from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee. Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Travel quietly and do not pursue, feed or force animals to flee. (One exception is in bear country where it is good to make a little noise so as not to startle the bears.) In hot or cold weather, disturbance can affect an animal’s ability to withstand the rigorous environment. Do not touch, get close to, feed or pick up wild animals. It is stressful to the animal, and it is possible that the animal may harbor rabies or other diseases. Sick or wounded animals can bite, peck or scratch and send you to the hospital. Young animals removed or touched by well-meaning people may cause the animals parents to abandon them. If you find sick animals or animals in trouble you should notify a game warden.
Considerate campers observe wildlife from afar, give animals a wide berth, store food securely and keep garbage and food scraps away from animals. Remember that you are a visitor to their home. The seventh principle is Be Considerate to Other Visitors. One of the most important components of outdoor ethics is to maintain courtesy toward other visitors. This helps everyone enjoy their outdoor experience. Many people come to the outdoors to listen to nature. Excessive noise, uncontrolled pets and damaged surroundings take away from the natural appeal of the outdoors. For more information on Leave No Trace, click here. Let's all work together and do our best to preserve these amazing lands for generations to come!!