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Leave No Trace

November 22, 2019

Written by  Tim Lewis

 

This fall, I had the privilege to participate in a Leave No Trace Master Educator course through Landmark Learning in Cullowhee, NC. This 5 day course introduced the topic of Leave No Trace (LNT) to myself and a several other outdoor professionals and recreationalists.

During that course, a foundation of experiential learning and outdoor ethics were built, and upon graduation, we would teach to our respective spheres of influence. We were tasked with teaching the course to each other throughout the 5 days. What better way to learn the material!?

What Is Leave No Trace?

Since the 1980’s, Leave No Trace has been a respected organization in the outdoor community who’s mission has been to protect the outdoors “by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly” (LNT Mission Statement). Through “cutting-edge education and research”, LNT has become a household name in the outdoor industry and continues to send ripples well beyond the banks of the outdoor industry. So what is it exactly?

Quite simply, LNT is a collection of 7 defining principles:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

 

These 7 principles can be applied to all outdoor activities, sports, and environments at any time by anyone! While following each principle, you will find that they relate back to and support one another in countless combinations and scenarios.

To illustrate, let’s say I am going on a camping trip, I will want to consider the following:

  1. I am prepared for the endeavor by the gear I take and research I do beforehand. Do I have a map, do I understand the local laws, do I have a bear bin, and have I packed appropriately?
  2. I am conscious of what I am going to be camping and hiking on. This can be anything from established trails, rocks, endangered grasses, to delicate highland bogs.
  3. I want to make sure that I use proper restroom facilities and trash bins, when available. Otherwise, I will want to bury or pack out waste appropriately.
  4. If a particularly intriguing natural souvenir such as a rock, flower, or artifact catches my eye, I make sure to take only pictures and leave it where I find it.
  5. When it’s time to build a fire, I am mindful of where and how I do this. Should I use an existing fire pit, build a new one, or reconsider the appropriateness of a fire altogether?
  6. Wild animals can be dangerous when approached or fed, so I am always diligent when I recreate in their space. If I cannot cover the animal with my outstretched thumb, I am probably too close.
  7. Lastly, when recreating, I am bound to run into other people keen on enjoying the same space I am. I want to make sure I am respecting their experiences by giving them the room to do so and for all extensive purposes, remaining as invisible to them as possible.

Hopefully, this information has gotten you thinking about ways you can implement the principles on your next outing and how to influence your circle of peers. I encourage you to look for signs of poor and exceptional Leave No Trace principals the next time you enjoy a natural space. For now, I will leave you with a couple final thoughts from my course…

Education Is Preferred Over Regulation

A theme that stood out to me during the course was how much LNT desires to avoid creating constricting rules, a multitude of do’s and don’ts, that only discourage us from heeding them. Instead I found that LNT seeks to motivate and inspire people to care for the natural world. This is, more often than not, done through education. Your chances of educating successfully are multiplied greatly by interacting with individuals face to face, by demonstrating proper usage, and by taking the time to understand the context of their visit to that space. Nobody likes to be scolded for doing something wrong, especially for something that they were not taught was important. Part of the job of a Master Educator is to teach people in the classroom but also to teach people in the moment. For example, it is one thing to have an LNT workshop with participation from enthusiastic individuals. However, it is a different thing altogether to confront someone who is poorly exhibiting one of the principles. The goal of LNT is to meet people where they are, to educate them in the classroom, in the backcountry, and in the small every day moments we find ourselves in.

Leave No Trace Is For Christians Too

By now you may be asking yourself, “how is LNT relevant to believers?” True, conservation and stewardship can sometimes take the back burner to more pressing world issues. However, as Christians we should be the first ambassadors of God’s creation. In fact, it was our first task assigned to us from God in Genesis. One of my favorite aspects of LNT is that it recognizes that nature and outdoor spaces are meant to be used and enjoyed, not simply left in idle wilderness. As a Christian, we should believe that the world can and should be a better place with us in it. Our fallen nature often fails at this, but remember the many triumphs of using nature throughout history such as the invention of carpentry, farming, sailing the 7 Seas in the name of exploration, or the establishment of civilization in general. Jesus himself was a carpenter after all with a special place in his heart for fishermen! As Christians, let’s continue to use and enjoy nature but to protect and preserve it for future glorification and Kingdom use.

Remember that Leave No Trace is not simply “leaving it alone” but rather “leaving it better than we found it.”