With all the craziness of the past few weeks many of us are turning to the outdoors to find some calm and sanity, which in turn has lead to a massive influx of people accessing public parklands. I wanted to take some time to review the Leave No Trace principles for myself, and to help introduce or familiarize others with them. In light of the current global health crisis, some have become much more important to consider when figuring out how best to interact with nature. We are lucky in the Bay to have access to so much green space, and to be able to continue to access these spaces even under the Shelter in Place order. However, we have to be careful to follow Leave No Trace principles in order to preserve these spaces and to respect those who work in the National, State, and Regional parks.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
This is one of the most important things to keep in mind when readying for a trip to your local park; check closures to parking lots, parks, roads, and so on. Currently all camping in California State and National parks is closed, and increasingly the parks service is limiting access. Please follow these guidelines! Stick to local parks you can walk or bike to, don’t block roads or make rogue parking places. Don’t do it!
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
What is a “durable surface” you ask? Pretty much any trail, picnic area, camping space, and so on that is marked and maintained for that purpose. So don’t go tromping off in the public forest, crushing the grass and stomping on redwood roots; they’re fragile!
Be careful to remain on established trails that are currently open. Trails may be closed due to the virus and overcrowding, but rainy season is also still in effect which impacts trail stability. Make everyone’s lives easier by respecting trail and parking lot closures. When you stray off the path you are encouraging erosion, which will lead to further closures and more work for trail maintenance crews. When you drop switchbacks or create your own trail you are destroying the established parks set aside for you. Don’t be that guy.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
Again, this is always important, but especially when there is no one to remove trash for you. Many of the parks are closed right now which includes facilities, buildings, and even trash cans. The trash cans are closed! So bring anything you brought with you back home and dispose of it properly. If you can, maybe even bring gloves and a trash bag to improve the landscape.
4. Leave What You Find
Please don’t collect natural objects you find. Leave the pretty sticks, flowers, rocks, and so forth as you find them. Take a picture, and go about your day.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
This should be a non-issue right now because all camping is cancelled, but! If you do feel the need to build a fire, don’t. Under normal circumstances, build fires in approved, established rings or grills. But for now, even most picnic areas are closed, so probably best to avoid catching things on fire altogether.
6. Respect Wildlife
Please avoid interacting with those creatures naturally occurring in your local park. Leave the banana slugs alone, and keep your dog from terrorizing the wild turkeys of Berkeley. Keep dogs on a leash where advised, and everyone yields to horseback riders. And please dear goodness, don’t mess with the geese. They’re mean.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
This is especially important during the epidemic when the CDC is recommending for us all to maintain 6 feet of distance between ourselves and others. Be considerate when choosing what trails and open spaces you’re going to. Maybe Saturday afternoon is the time you’ll stay home and read a book and not crowd trails. If you do see others hiking towards you, make space. Also be sure to acknowledge the rules of the trail you are on. Do not take your mountain bike, horse, or off-leash dog where it’s not meant to be. Particularly under the current conditions, try to avoid narrow trails and don’t run other people off into the woods. The parks are for everyone, but we all have to respect each other and mama nature.
Thanks for reading! The full, official Leave No Trace principles can be found at www.LNT.org
Stay safe, have fun.