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Seven steps to reducing impact when enjoying the great outdoors

Protecting the environment and living by the principles of leaving no trace behind may seem insignificant until a person considers the combined effects of millions of people traveling to the same outdoor points of interest. Over time, simply walking or moving through wild areas can degrade natural surroundings.

The U.S. National Park Service reminds nature lovers that everyone has a role in protecting wild spaces. Park visitors should be conscious of how their behaviors affect animals, plants, ecosystems, and even other people. The concept of the Leave No Trace program is comprised of seven principles. These can serve as a starting off point of reference when taking part in outdoor activities. Leave No Trace courses are available nationwide. Here’s a look at the seven principles.

1. Plan ahead and prepare

Planning ahead helps outdoor enthusiasts accomplish their goals safely and with preserving natural resources in mind. Knowing regulations, visiting in small groups, scheduling trips to avoid busy times of year, and thinking about ways to minimize damage should all be part of the planning process.

2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces

Durable surfaces are those designed to be used as maintained trails and campsites. They include gravel, rock, dry grasses, and snow. Visitors should avoid walking on natural vegetation and trailblazing. Stick to existing trails and campsites.

3. Properly dispose of waste

“Carry in/carry out” means trash should be packed up and disposed of in proper receptacles. In addition, inspect surroundings for spilled food or litter. Waste also applies to waste water and human waste. Proper disposal of waste water can help prevent contamination of the ground and natural water surfaces. Learn how to properly handle waste based on the site you will be visiting.

4. Leave what you find

Do not take vegetation or other structures from natural areas. Avoid digging or modifying sites. Also, do not touch cultural or historical structures and artifacts.

5. Minimize campfires

When fires are needed, use established fire rings, pans or mound fires. Consider using a lightweight camp stove for cooking and a lantern for illumination. Keep fires small and only use downed and dead wood.

6. Respect wildlife

Outdoor enthusiasts should never feed or approach wild animals; observe from a distance. Control pets or leave them at home if they will disturb animals. Avoid visiting certain areas during mating and nesting seasons.

7. Be considerate of others

You will not be the only person trying to enjoy nature. Therefore, keep voices and other noises low. Camp quietly and let the sounds of nature prevail. Maintain distance from other campsites and groups. Try to blend into the surroundings as much as possible.

Nature lovers should do their best to minimize their impact on their natural surroundings, which can help protect these spaces for years to come.

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