If you are planning to visit a national park this summer, it is vital that you read up on the Leave No Trace Principles and educate yourself on outdoor education and advocacy measures. Having visited over ten national parks already this season alone (and over 25 in totality), we can honestly say the busy season can be painful. Sure the crowds can be unbearable, but the worst of it is the utter disrespect for the wild spaces we are all trying to enjoy. Read on for our list of six ways you are harming our national parks, which have been backed by park rangers and fellow campers.
1. Blaring your music
It may seem harmless and like good fun, but listening to your music while hiking is just flat rude. Not only does it disturb your fellow hikers, it can also disturb and irritate wildlife. Please do everyone a favor and use headphones. Or better yet, just take in the beautiful sounds of nature around you. This applies at your campsite as well. I’m all for light music, but the blaring music until well past midnight (breaking the quiet hour rules) is disrespectful. Fortunately, my children and myself can sleep to the beat, but not everyone can.
2. Picking flowers
I truly love the flowers that my five-year-old hand picks for me from our backyard. So teaching him to just smell flowers has not been easy! We need to ensure that we are protecting our beautiful landscape and preserving the life cycle of its many insects, birds and animals. Also you do want to be sure you are not carrying any plant life or dirt from one location to the next in order to avoid passing along invasive species.
3. Leaving food and/or drinks out at your campsite when you leave for a hike
Campgrounds that have frequent wildlife visitors, like bears, will have proper warnings of this, and yet people still don’t follow those rules. As a park visitor, it is your responsibility to pack out all of your belongings. This is to keep the parks clean, but also to not bring in unwanted visitors. This doesn’t just apply to campsites, but also picnic areas as well.
4. Approaching Wildlife
Please don’t make the mistake of prioritizing your social media image over wildlife’s and your own well-being. On a recent trip to Jasper, Alberta we saw a car pulled over on the side of the road. Two young females were exiting the vehicle, so we pulled over to see if they needed any assistance. They proceeded to cross the busy highway, as we pulled over, to get a better picture of an elk grazing. We tried to gently inform them that they needed to stay in their vehicle for everyone’s safety but they just had to get more pictures. One of the women got so close to the elk that it was less than ten feet from her. The recommendation, by the way, is a minimum of 50 feet. She was fortunate this time that everyone was fine, but there are other situations where visitors don’t end up so lucky. If there was an unexpected loud noise or the elk’s spawn nearby, it could have become territorial and defensive quickly.
Or you could have changed its behavior patterns to the point that wildlife officials would have to euthanize it for its safety. This is what happened recently in Yellowstone, when a man picked up a baby bison calf who appeared to be lost from its herd. Officials could not get it to reunite with its family so they were forced to euthanize it. The man is now being tried for these horrific actions. There are plenty of signs everywhere that remind you of the safe distances to keep between yourself and wildlife, so please read and follow them. And always remember that it is best to observe them from the safety of your vehicle.
5. Circling the parking lot instead of parking further out and taking the shuttle bus
If you truly must circle the parking lot, please just continue to circle. There is rarely enough space for you to linger and wait. I’m also a strong believer that the right spot will always come.
6. Stacking rocks
Cairns are used by trail guides to help lead them to the right direction. It can be very dangerous to fellow hiker’s safety to remove, add, or create your own cairn. If you’d like to create your own stacked rock creation, please dismantle it before moving on.
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is an organization that protects the environment by teaching people to enjoy it responsibly. National parks have adopted Leave No Trace principles as a way to help visitors follow park rules and protect wildlife and wild spaces.
The principles are as follows:
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
If our children can follow these rules, then I am confident you can have some discretion and do so as well. The best take-home message we can leave them and you with is, wouldn’t it be a shame to not have this to share with the next generation? Data has shown that with the number of visitors that visit each national park each year, it could be totally demolished within a few short years with flagrant, selfish behaviors. Remember, that we are on this planet to protect and preserve it. It is our responsibility to take appropriate action to ensure that our wildlife and wild spaces are here for many generations to come.