Now that we have our kids out on the trails one of the things we keep in mind is ethics of the outdoors. In my family, we begin with “Leave No Trace.” Here are some reminders for you and your family out on the trail.
Handling your Trash on the Trail
“Pack it out” isn’t only for back country campers; anyone who uses the trails can take something from this. I find this to be one of the things that bugs me the most. I hate walking a trail and finding garbage left behind by other hikers. When heading out for a hike remember to throw a plastic bag in your pack so that you have a place to put your garbage. Backcountry camping requires carrying that garbage for your whole trip and you don’t want the rotting smell in your backpack.
Think about trash first, not last: The trick here is when you are packing your food for the trip you place it in zip lock bags so that once you eat that food you have a sealable bag to put any garbage in or better yet when packing for your hike prepare all food in reusable dishes so there is no garbage. Now in the morning when you are packing up your site, you should do a quick walk around your campsite and pick up anything that doesn’t belong there even if it wasn’t yours. This way you know in your mind that you are taking care of the forest so that you grandchildren will be able to use the trails in years to come. Some other things that people try to do is burn or bury their garbage. Please don’t. If you bury your garbage it will always come back up because animals have great smelling abilities and will dig it up. Over time erosion will uncover it as well. While burning your garbage will destroy it, that costs the environment, not to mention the burn bans that are often in effect. The bottom line with your trash is whatever you take in to the woods carry it out with you!
Travel Down the Trail
There are a couple of things we can do while on the hiking trails to protect the forest around us. We should travel in small groups, travel in single file and stick to the paths. You should look in to the park (or backcountry) rules and bylaws for trails, campgrounds, and backcountry campsites before heading out. Most parks keep track of the people using the back country camping trails but it is always good to tell someone where you are going and how long you will be gone. Adhering to these rules cuts down on the damage that we put on the environment.
Setting up a Good Backcountry Campsite
You have been on the trail all day and it is time to set camp for the night. Think ahead before you set up camp. Do a little planning and it will reduce wear on the environment. Many trails already have designated sites and you should use them. If there aren’t designated campsites, follow these ethics to minimize impact. Look for a durable place to set up your tent to avoid hurting the environment around you. Be kind to even small alpine scrub. The growing season in high regions is often very short and it takes vegetation a lot time to recover. Wash dishes away from your site so any leftover food doesn’t attract animals. Don’t wash your dishes in or near a main water source such as a creek or river because the dish soap will contaminate the water. Instead of using soap and water, try moist towelettes to wipe your body off at the end of the day.
Most of us carry our cameras while hiking to get those great shots of the animals, mountains, or waterfalls. Here’s a trick to encourage children from bringing the forest home as a souvenir. Give them a camera to take with them so they can take a picture that will last a life time, instead of the rocks, pine needles, animal bones, shells, or other treasures your children like to collect.
One last thing I would like to touch on is animals. I know they look so cute and cuddly but they’re not meant to be pets. Please teach your kids to keep their distance. We like it when they give us our space so give them theirs. Resist urges to feed wildlife. Teaching animals to approach people is dangerous (yes, even chipmunks can bite). You are now in their backyard not your own. Respect their space and deter any overly friendly activity that other campers might have caused. Keep the wilderness beautiful and it will reward you in amazing ways!