Teaching the principles of Leave No Trace to your children can be built into the natural fun of exploring the great outdoors. As you visit national, state, and local parks with your children to hike, fish, picnic, and camp, it is imperative to teach them to not only enjoy nature but to preserve the beauty around them. The seven principles of Leave No Trace are guidelines for everyone to follow so everyone can enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature today, tomorrow, and always.
“The 7 principles of Leave No Trace allow park users to take on a personal role in preserving the outdoor experience for future generations,” says Lydia Austin, the interpretive programs manager for South Dakota’s Custer State Park. “So many people are beginning to visit the outdoors in the last couple of years. That is having a large impact on the parks. If visitors don’t leave plants, rocks, or the outdoors how they found it, there won’t be much left for the future.”
The 7 principles of Leave No Trace are Plan Ahead & Prepare; Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces; Dispose of Trash Properly; Leave What You Find; Minimize Campfire Impacts; Respect Wildlife; and Be Considerate of Other Visitors.
Parks across the country have undergone budget cuts throughout the years. It helps tremendously when visitors pick up after themselves, says Matt Tschirgi, park manager for the Pikes Peak State Park in McGregor, Iowa.
“It’s important to be respectful to the land and the earth,” says Tschirgi, who has worked for the Iowa State Parks system for more than 20 years.
Plan Ahead & Prepare
The first of the 7 principles of Leave No Trace is important for all nature lovers. Plan Ahead & Prepare so that you and your family have needed supplies. It’s important to make sure you have adequate water supplies for outdoor activities to prevent dehydration. Make sure you have the proper gear for your planned activities – blankets, coats, proper walking shoes, etc… Other ways to Plan Ahead & Prepare include making camping reservations, acquiring needed permits, and double-checking the weather.
Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
The second of the 7 principles of Leave No Trace is to Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces, which means to preserve all-natural areas. When front-country camping and hiking, be sure to camp and travel on existing sites and trails. When back-country camping and hiking, choose the most durable surfaces so as not to harm vegetation.
Dispose of Waste Properly
The third of the 7 principles of Leave No Trace seems simple enough – trash your trash. When you venture into nature be sure to “pack it in and pack it out,” which means not to leave anything behind. Clean up after yourself. Teach your children to pick up after themselves – straw wrappers, granola bar wrappers, etc.
The Iowa state parks take this Leave No Trace principle quite seriously. Tschirgi says none of the Iowa state parks have garbage cans except for next to concession stands. “We try to keep the park as clean as we can. You have to take your trash with you,” he says.
Disposing of waste properly includes wastewater from dishes and human waste, too. Human waste and trash can lead to water pollution and harm to animals.
Leave What You Find
Let the next hikers, campers, or visitors to the county, state, or national park enjoy the sense of wonder and discovery. The fourth principle of Leave No Trace is Leave What You Find. Teach your children to take only memories and leave only footprints. Leave the beautiful rocks, flowers, deer antler shed, archaeological artifacts, and other objects of interest as you find them. “If there is a unique geological formation and everyone takes a rock as a souvenir, eventually there won’t be any of it left for the future. You have to have a preservation mindset,” Tschirgi says.
Take photos but enjoy the moment. In addition, remind your children that doing small things like carving initials in trees, caves or even benches leaves a sign that they were there. The goal of Leave No Trace is to truly leave Mother Nature as you found it so everyone can enjoy the beauty today, tomorrow, and in the future.
A cairn is an officially established pile of rocks designed to mark a trail built by land managers to designate the trail so hikers follow on the most durable surfaces, according to the Leave No Trace website. However, many Nature Lovers have started stacking rocks as a part of artistic expression, which clearly leaves a trace that people passed through. When you move rocks from their existing homes in a stream, a trail, or a mountainside, it can affect animal/insect habitats, erosion, and aesthetics.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Minimizing Campfire Impacts is the fifth principle of Leave No Trace. Simply put: follow the rules when it comes to campfires. Check with the ranger to see if there is a burn ban. Use existing fire rings. Follow rules about collecting and gathering firewood for the park you are visiting.
We all know there is something magical about enjoying a campfire on a starry night. But it is so important to remember to teach children fire safety. Do not burn liter. Supervise children. Keep fires small and only burn while you are using the fire. Do not leave a fire unattended. Keep camp stove fuel and extra wood away from the campfire. Extinguish fires completely with water.
The principles of Leave No Trace tell you to Respect Wildlife. Teach your children that when visiting the great outdoors: at a park or their own backyard that it is the animals’ homes. Quietly and safely observe wildlife from a distance.
Do not chase animals or feed animals of any kind. Human interaction can cause animals to not fear humans which can put them in danger. Eating the wrong foods can be harmful to their digestive systems, too.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
The seventh principle of Leave No Trace is Be Considerate to Other Visitors. Everyone wants to enjoy nature, and to do so requires everyone to be courteous to each other. Do not let loud music or uncontrolled pets disturb other visitors. Yield to bicyclists or horseback riders when hiking. Yield to uphill hikers when hiking downhill. All in all – be kind to one another.
The past two years have encouraged everyone to get outside to social distance. Many visiting Custer State Park, as well as state and national parks across the country, are new to the outdoors. “Many do not know about Leave No Trace,” but enjoy learning about it through park programs, Austin says. “They take pride in practicing the principles once they know about them. They also enjoy spreading the word to others about the principles of Leave No Trace so it creates a great user base.”
The Leave No Trace website offers resources and classes to learn more about Leave No Trace. The Leave No Trace concept is more than 50 years old, but the nonprofit was incorporated in 1994. The Cub Scout, Scouts BSA, and Girl Scout programs include the principles of Leave No Trace in lessons about the outdoors. “You have to have a preservation mindset,” Tschirgi says.
Sources: Leave No Trace
Photo Credits: Unsplash and Pexels
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