Anyone who enjoys being outside has probably heard the phrase Leave No Trace.
It may appear simple, but it entails more than simply picking up after yourself while hiking, camping, or engaging in other forms of outdoor recreation. It’s an entirely new way of interacting with nature.
While the overarching concept of land stewardship dates back thousands of years among Native communities, what we now call Leave No Trace stems from backcountry land usage guidelines developed in the 1980s by the United States Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management. The nonprofit Leave No Trace later expanded these into seven specific principles that can be applied to any outdoor space.
Here’s what it means to “Leave No Trace”:
What does the phrase “Leave No Trace” mean?
The whole point of Leave No Trace is to enjoy nature while minimising human impact.
What are the seven tenets of leaving no trace?
Prepare and plan ahead of time
Travel and camp on tough surfaces.
Proper waste disposal
Leave whatever you find.
Reduce the impact of campfires.
Wildlife should be treated with care.
Be mindful of others.
The National Park Service’s website explains how each of Leave No Trace’s seven principles applies to national parks. If those are too difficult to recall, Christine Hoyer, a backcountry management specialist with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, told USA TODAY. Leave No Trace entails three things: respecting the land and its resources, respecting the creatures that live on it, and respecting other visitors.
Land and resource stewardship
“It’s all too easy to think, ‘That’s not a big deal. It’s just the two of us,'” Hoyer was speaking of seemingly innocuous activities such as carving into trees or wandering off designated trails. “As soon as one person leaves a trail and follows a path somewhere, compaction occurs on the ground, and not only do other people see and follow it, but water does as well.”
This has the potential to have a cumulative effect on the land and its inhabitants.
Furthermore, removing plants, rocks, or other artefacts from national parks without a permit is prohibited.
Respect for all living things on the land
“Everyone is really excited to see the bear and the elk and the other things that live here, but we also want to make sure that we’re honouring the fact that this is their home,” Hoyer said. “Anytime you get close enough to an animal that it changes its behaviour – it looks up from the ground, it notices you – that’s when you’ve gotten too close to it, and we don’t want to do anything that habituates those wild animals to people.”
Visitors to many parks are required to stay at least 25 yards away from most wildlife and 100 yards away from predators such as bears. The illegal act of “feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, or intentionally disturbing wildlife nesting, breeding, or other activities” is prohibited.
Considering other visitors
“The National Park Service wants visitors to have a high-quality experience wherever they go in the National Park System,” said Park Service regional director Michael T. Reynolds in testimony submitted to the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks in July 2021.
“”The decisions and actions you take on your trip have an impact on all of those people,” Hoyer said. “Imagine you want to do everything you can as a visitor to ensure that everyone who comes after you has the same experience.”
The park service recommends visiting a less-visited national park to enjoy those experiences without crowds.