5 Ways to Lessen Your Impact in the Backcountry – Being better stewards in the outdoors
Nature is under assault and it’s from the most unlikely of sources. It’s under assault from those of us who love the outdoors.
We all love to get outside and be a part of the great natural places of this world. But as more and more of us get outside, we’re placing an ever increasing burden on these places that we love.
A recent article by the Yale School of Forestry concluded that our precious outdoor areas are in danger, of being “loved to death”.
More and more, people are discovering the beauty and epic nature of our shared outdoor parks and recreation areas. While it is encouraging that so many people want to explore the epic places of nature, ironically, this new found popularity appears to be causing its own unintended issues.
On a recent summit attempt on Mount Whitney in California, I had a chance to speak at length with a couple of the hard-working rangers that are responsible for this iconic area. It became abundantly clear that we are not doing enough to protect these special places.
So, with that in mind and after researching the challenge, speaking with the rangers and drawing on my own experiences in the outdoors, here are five ways we can all make a difference and preserve these amazing places.
1. When you’re on the trail, don’t cut switchbacks
Hiking is such an enjoyable adventure for our family. Switchbacks, however, can be monotonous. Back and forth and back and forth as you climb a hill or mountain can seem tedious and the temptation to just go straight up the hill rather than make a few more steps to the end of the switchback is always there. So what’s the big deal?
Switchbacks are designed to protect two important things, you and the mountain. Safety is always important and falls do occur when inexperienced people decide to go “off trail”.
But, more importantly, switchbacks protect the mountain. Erosion is very real and can destroy fragile environments. It can dislodge rocks and uproot small trees and plants that are not only beautiful and add to the hiking experience, they are important to the overall health of the mountain. It can affect the animals that live in these areas too.
So, enough said. Don’t cut switchbacks. Period.
2. Stay on the trail and camp on durable surfaces
Staying on the trail is just as important as not cutting switchbacks. Cutting multiple trails through a meadow, for instance, can destroy fragile ecosystems. Trampling vegetation can cause damage that may take years or decades to repair.
Look for durable surfaces when pitching your tent. Find an area that’s already been used for camping. Dirt or rock is best.
Avoid meadows and grasslands. While they may look soft and inviting, you can easily destroy areas that support all kinds of wildlife and a grassy area which has been destroyed may never return to the beautiful meadow it used to be.
So, this is your chance to do the right thing. Remember, when you leave your campsite, it should look like you were never there!
3. Don’t feed the animals!
Feeding wild animals usually never turns out well for either the animal or the human. Animals can lose their fear of humans and become aggressive or just a plain nuisance. In addition, feeding an animal human food can lead to dietary problems for the animal which could include the death of that creature. Young animals that grow up depending on humans for food can also have problems finding food when humans are gone.
So, don’t. Don’t feed them. Watch them from a distance. Become a part of the nature experience, not part of a problem.
4. Pack out your trash!
This is one thing that really bugs me. People who leave trash behind as if there’s a cleaning crew right behind you picking up your garbage. Seriously?
The ranger we spoke to on our recent trip framed it like this:
“You just took food, which you just ate, out of a package. Now, somehow, that package is filthy! Really?”
I agree. It’s your trash. You brought it in. You take it out.
Bring a large re-sealable bag and put your trash in the bag when you’re done. It’s very simple. Then, put that bag in your pack when you leave! You just packed out your trash! Amazing how that works! And don’t forget to throw it away properly when you get back to civilization.
Helpful tip: After you put the trash in the bag, press all the air out of the bag before you reseal it. It makes it pack down smaller.
Also, on that same trip, we overheard some nearby campers having an argument as to whether the trash goes in a bear canister. Really?
They put their food in the canister. So, why would their trash, which still smells like their food, go ANYWHERE else? So, YES, put your trash in a bear canister, hang it in a bear bag, put it in the trash can (if there is one) or a bear box.
Whew! Glad we put that one to rest!
5. Consider visiting some less popular parks or recreation areas
While iconic parks and recreation areas should be on everyone’s lists of places to see, these parks are iconic for a reason and are obviously the most visited. For instance, we had a recent trip to Zion National Park. The place was packed. The trams start running at 6:00 am. The lines for these trams began as early as 5:15 am! The trams run all day and are full to capacity.
All day. Wow.
In contrast, on that same trip, we visited Bryce Canyon National Park. While it’s an extremely beautiful park, it had half or less of the traffic of Zion. And while it’s a different experience from Zion to be sure, it was truly rewarding and just an amazing place to see. And we didn’t have to fight with the throngs of people either. Something to consider when you plan your vacations!
Another option is to visit the parks in their off seasons. There are fewer people and it is less taxing on the park, the wildlife and your nerves!
These are just a few of the ways you can help take better care of the amazing outdoor places we all love to visit and experience. I would encourage everyone to go online to the LNT (Leave No Trace) website (LNT.org) and take their online quiz. It’s fun, informative and it helps all of us who enjoy the outdoors to be more aware of our impact on the environment. And, you’ll get a certificate when you’ve completed the quiz!
We all need to be better stewards of our outdoor places. We are all responsible for the environment, each other and to the generations who will come after us.
So, I’m curious. How do you make a positive impact on our outdoor places? Let me know in the comments below.
Be sure to check out our Youtube channel where we’ll look at additional ways to lighten our footprint on the outdoors and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram. And, as always, We’ll See You Outside!
Check out our video about How to Lessen Your Impact in the Outdoors!