Monday, October 12, 2015

Extension Outdoors - Take only pictures, leave only footsteps

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- As a frequent visitor to wild places and
wild spaces, I have the privilege of experiencing our country in all its beauty and wonder. When I spend time outdoors, especially in the wilderness, I like to practice Leave No Trace.
Leave No Trace is a set of seven, easy-to-follow principles meant to reduce our negative impact on the environment as we spend time in it.

Before I venture out of town for a backpacking or hiking trip, I like to follow the first principle fully. Plan Ahead and Prepare can help considerably improve how you perceive your time in the outdoors. This is the time when you make sure you are aware of the weather forecast for the area and time you will be outdoors. Understanding what weather to expect helps you prepare your clothing choices for your trip.

Take out the map of the area and plan where you are going to travel, focusing on terrain, water
sources and time table. Make sure to bring your compass and map with you on your trip. Smaller groups lead to lower impacts on the area, so consider carefully the number of people you bring along, and, if necessary, break up a large group into multiple smaller groups. These smaller groups should be to help reduce negative impacts on the environment.

The next principle is Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. By camping and traveling on durable surfaces, we reduce damage to fragile spaces. Many rare plant species can be found in our wild places, usually off trail. We should strive to let them thrive.

Do not camp right by a lake or stream. Do your best to be at least 200 feet from any water. This is to help reduce negative impact on sensitive aquatic environments. Great campsites are found, not made. In order to reduce human impacts, we should continue to use areas that are already designated as campsites. Please don’t make a new campsite when there are already plenty around. Avoid camping or walking in places where impacts are just beginning to be seen, such as recently trampled plant life.

Dispose of Waste Properly is number three. If you pack the materials in, please pack them out. Bring all trash and leftover food with you when you leave. Make sure to dig a 6- to 8-inch hole to bury human waste at least 200 feet from your campsite and any water sources. Also, clean your dishes away from water with biodegradable soap.

Number four is a difficult one for me at times, Leave What You Find. For many of us who spend time outdoors, we tend to find things we like and wish to bring back with us. When we do this, the items are no longer available in the wild for others to enjoy. Remember, take only pictures; leave only footsteps.

The fifth principle is Minimize Campfire Impacts, and it refers to using premade fire pits when having a campfire outdoors. It is best to have small fires and to make sure they are completely extinguished before leaving an area. Campfires can have lasting impacts on the environment, so we should do our best to make sure they are minimal.

Respect Wildlife is our next principle. You are outside, and an animal comes into sight. Does this mean you or your pet should chase or harass the animal? No. Does it mean you can’t enjoy its presence? No. By all means, watch and enjoy, but never feed the animals. This practice can cause health issues, it will alter how the animals forage for sustenance in the future, and it can end up leading to human-wildlife conflicts.

For example, while backpacking on the Appalachian Trail at the end of July, I saw many signs posted
stating that, due to choices humans were making while in the backcountry, some black bears have become frequent visitors to shelters and campsites. Now campers are told to use bear-resistant containers to protect food and supplies.

Another aspect of respecting wildlife involves pets. While hiking, keep your dogs on leash so they don’t chase or harass the wildlife. This typically leads to you enjoying the trip even more, since the deer and other animals will be around for you to actually see.

Last but not least is the seventh principle of Leave No Trace: Be Considerate of Other Visitors. This is where we make sure our experience outdoors doesn’t negatively affect another explorer’s visit. While hiking, someone will eventually travel uphill toward you, so be respectful and step out of the way to let them pass. If you feel the need to listen to music, wear headphones. Personally, I am a huge fan of listening to a great stereo playing my favorite songs, but while I am outdoors, there is nothing that can compare to the quality of sound that comes from the habitat I am visiting. Birds, insects, frogs and the occasional mammals make for a very stimulating auditory experience. These sounds are one of the many things people seek when outdoors.

Spending time outside is supposed to be fun and relaxing. By following the seven principles of Leave No Trace, we can ensure that future visitors are able to enjoy their experience outdoors, as well. We are merely borrowing this space from our children and grandchildren, so let’s make sure we leave them something to be proud of.