Leave No Trace in the age of COVID-19

Photo looking up through the leaves of a tree in the Oakland hills.

With all the craziness of the past few months 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 park lands. 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 some campsites and parks remain closed, while others are opening. Please follow these guidelines! It is still best to stick 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 also due to trail maintenance and potential blowouts from snow and rain. 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

California is a place where Fire is a season and the potential for a forest fire exists always. Be sure to take note of forest fire risk and any fire restrictions in place. If you are heading to an established campsite with fire rings, fires are generally allowed unless otherwise noted; check the message board at the entrance, or ask the camp host if there is one. This also applies to camp stove use (though I have never seen a campsite where you couldn't at least use a camp stove at your site or with a permit).

If you are Dispersed Camping and not in a developed campsite, you will need to obtain a Campfire Permit to cook or build fires. Campfire Permits cover use of stoves, as well as barbecues and open fires. They are free and valid until the end of the calendar year of issue. Make sure to check fire restrictions; during high fire risk, camp stoves may be allowed while open fires are not.

You can get a Campfire Permit at any Forest Service office, CAL FIRE office, or Bureau of Land Management office, or online at readyforwildfire.org.


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 pandemic 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.


  • VFanta says...

    Great article. Loved the comment about the geese. They ARE mean!

    On March 30, 2020
  • DJ Smith says...

    Park lands is two words.

    On March 27, 2020
  • Midori Miller says...

    Thank you for the lovely reminder to be mindful and kind to our nature, animals and each other…

    On March 27, 2020
  • Julie Shimko says...

    Hello! Can you share which parks are now open for bike and walk in only? Fingers crossed Sonoma County is included!

    On March 27, 2020

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