Take a Hike . . . with Mike Monroe: Learn the seven principles of preserving our parks, forests and refuges
Published in the May 25 – June 7, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Mike Monroe
A recent ranger program at Anderson Lake County Park described what every hiker should bring with them when on the trail. The most important objective, of course, is for all park users to experience an enjoyable and safe outing. My portion of the presentation was to review a way of approaching all ventures into our open spaces called Leave No Trace. I think the message of Leave No Trace deserves a repeat performance and, if you are not able to join us, please consider taking a look at the concepts at www.lnt.org.
This year we celebrate the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service as one of “America’s best ideas,” preserving parks, forests and wildlife refuges across the country. We enjoy some the most spectacular scenery and pristine natural environments of any nation in the world. And with annual visitations to all of our protected lands and historic landmarks numbering in the hundreds of millions there is the reality that we do have tendency to “love our parks to death.”
We go outside as individuals, families and groups of friends to reconnect with nature, to exercise, to view splendid scenery and to see wildlife. But nature can be fragile and our accumulated visits can really take a toll on the environment, disrupting the landscapes and their residents even unintentionally. It was in response to visitor impacts that the federal land management agencies — the Park Service, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management — decided to in 1994 to work with the National Outdoor Leadership School to create the Leave No Trace program. The program is “dedicated to the responsible enjoyment and stewardship of the outdoors by all people.”
Leave No Trace is a double-edged sword. It is both an ethic of stewardship and the application of best practices in appreciating the outdoors. Seven principles were adopted and are now widely accepted by organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts of America. The first principle is right out the Scout Handbook: plan ahead and prepare. Every visit to the outdoors will be enhanced when we take the time to improve our knowledge of our destination. It may seem like common sense to wear sturdy shoes or bring sun protection or an extra windbreaker, a little planning goes a long way to ensuring a fun and safe trip.
Secondly, travel and camp lightly on the land. It’s best to stay on trails and not take short cuts and to camp only at established sites. It only takes a little trampling of fragile areas to cause a long lasting impact. Next is to dispose of waste properly or as the saying goes “pack it in, pack it out.” The goal of every outdoor visit should be to make our travel look like nobody was ever there. There are some very specific practices for the disposal of human waste and the residue of meals and soaps that should be a part of your preparation.
The fourth principle is “leave what you find.” Observation is the key, and then “pass on the gift of discovery to those who follow.” Bring home memories or photos or sketches and discard the idea that we can improve on nature by moving things around. Campfires are the fifth topic because of the potential for a situation to get out of control. The best practice is to use an outdoor stove so that wood collection becomes unnecessary plus you won’t have to carry a heavy ax or saw.
Treat the wildlife that we encounter with respect as we are visitors in their homes is the sixth principle. Feeding wild animals is a no-no as they will develop a taste for human food which could cause illness or create a nuisance problem. View wildlife from a distance so they do not startle or get defensive. Just like when hiking at Harvey Bear Ranch County Park and cows are grazing nearby, do not get between a mom and her calf — especially with a dog.
Finally, we should always be considerate of others. Most of us really need to escape the pace of our hectic lives and experience some sense of peace and quiet in the outdoors. Radios and loud voices are more than a distraction when you enjoying a sunset moment or a cup of coffee at your campsite.
We will talk further about the Leave No Trace program at the Anderson Visitors Center and I will have additional information to hand out. As a member of the Center for Outdoor Ethics, I am an advocate for the responsible enjoyment of our natural landscapes — and I hope that you are, too.
Keep on sauntering.
Mike Monroe is a business owner and naturalist. He is a docent for Santa Clara County Parks.