Those who have gone hiking or camping with me have more than likely been within earshot of a stream of expletives that I can’t use here. What, you ask, could draw that much ire?
Everything from beer cans and sandwich bags to a dead bird wrapped in baling wire and tinsel and left hanging in a tree.
*Steps onto soap box and clears throat.*
Stop throwing trash places it doesn’t belong!
Most people who live in Wyoming are at least familiar with the principles of Leave No Trace, so why am I rucking out 200-plus pounds of trash in a season? And that’s just out of a little bit of state land that I visit on the regular.
It’s about more than just the trash, it’s about minimizing the potential for damage to the environment. It’s not that hard to clean up after yourself and minimize the impact you have.
I’m going to take the opportunity to talk about the seven principles of Leave No Trace so we can all enjoy the miles and miles of Wyoming.
Plan ahead and prepare
When you embark on even just a day trip, planning is crucial. You need to know where you’re going, the skill level of everyone involved and any specific rules for the area. You need to be conscious of the weather, terrain and be flexible when things inevitably go wrong.
Plan meals. You can pack a little heavier if you’re going to developed campsite and if you’re going backpacking there are plenty of lightweight, low-waste meal options.
The planning phase lays the groundwork for a successful trip and will make it easier to follow Leave No Trace.
Travel and camp on durable surfaces
When you’re traveling through the backcountry consider the durability of the area. Walk on established trails as much as possible so new ones aren’t created. If you do travel off-trail, i.e. walking to a bathroom site or hiking to remote locations, observe your surroundings and find a way through that will affect as little as possible. Also consider group size and frequency of use. The more people and more times an area is used, the greater impact that area will endure. When you set up camp, look for a place that can handle it. Rock, sand, gravel and hard-packed dirt are always top choices.
Try not to disturb the less-hardy vegetation and leave desert puddles and mud holes alone.
Dispose of waste properly
This one can get a bit gross. Yep, we’re going to talk about backwoods bathroom breaks.
In most places you can bury human feces in what is called a cat hole, 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 in diameter. There is a bit of debate on toilet paper. Personally, I pack it out in a resealable baggy but lnt.org says you can bury it. Just make sure you’re using unscented, plain white TP. You can also use natural alternatives — stones, snow and vegetation. Dig your cat hole 200 feet away from any water source, trail or campsite. Don’t go in the same place twice and, if you’re with friends, disperse yourselves to do your business. Be mindful of the area and pick a low traffic spot that has no signs of water runoff. No one wants that in the water. Pro tip: Carry hand sanitizer.
When it comes to trash, pack it in, pack it out. Don’t be leaving it around for nature to get into. Every inch of fishing line, every cigarette butt and empty soup can should leave with you. Carry a bag or two to carry out your trash and whoever else’s you stumble across.
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Leave what you find
This one is easy. Leave it how you found or, when possible, better. Don’t make rudimentary improvements at the risk of damaging the area. If you move rocks, twigs and other things to make a campsite put them back. Learn how to assess an area and minimize everything you do. If there’s a legally and properly built fire ring you can leave it. If it isn’t, break it down and make sure there’s no remaining sign of it so others aren’t encouraged to build one.
Don’t mess with trees, period. Don’t hack away at them or carve initials into them. You can get sleeping pads at any outdoor store, or use the yoga mat you leave in the closet, so there’s no need to cut boughs to sleep on.
Don’t pick flowers. It would be fine if you were the only one doing it but everyone is thinking, “I’ll just pick a few.” which has a cascading effect. Same goes with sticks, leaves, rocks, cultural artifacts and so on. All you should come out with are memories and photos.
Minimize campfire impacts
I touched on this a bit above but there is more to it. Because there are so many options for cooking without one, ask yourself if you need a fire. How great is the potential for damage if you use a fire? What’s the fire danger for the location and time of year and are there restrictions? Can you build one properly?
If you’re going to build a fire make sure it’s in an area that has plenty of wood and wouldn’t be diminished by the overuse of firewood. High alpine areas and deserts are typically a no-go for fires. And when you’re done with the fire there should be absolutely no trace of it unless it’s in an existing, properly constructed and legal fire ring. Keep fires small and only burning as long as you are using it. There are many rules for fires that you can find on the Leave No Trace website that go into more detail.
Rule number one, keep your distance. We’ve all seen the reports from Yellowstone of people getting too close and having their vacation ruined by the bison they thought looked cuddly. Be quiet, except in the case of traveling in bear country, and observe. Travel in smaller groups to cause less of a disturbance. Don’t go poking around for a better look, don’t feed anything and don’t chase anything. Remember that you’re in their space. Keep food securely stored. Camping 200 feet away from water gives the locals stress-free access and keeps it cleaner for them.
Be considerate of other visitors
Remember that you’re also sharing the space with other people. I’m one of those people who camps and hikes for the solitude so I choose weekends after busy holidays because everyone else was just out.
If you’re going to listen to music no one can stop you, but please use earbuds. Though that seems fool hardy because hearing is very important in the great outdoors and you’d be missing out on so many little things.
There is a right-of-way system on trails. Typically downhill hikers yield to uphill hikers, everyone yields to those on horseback and mountain bikers yield to everyone. Announce your presence if you’re passing someone, also another good reason not to have music.
An often overlooked element is the color of clothing and gear. Bright colors are discouraged because they can be seen and may add to the crowded feeling. I’m always in light browns, olive greens and grays.
Always keep your pets under control. No one, not you, not me and not the wildlife wants to deal with an out-of-control dog.
Wyoming is 48 percent public lands and we have a responsibility to preserve them. If you know the Leave No Trace principles, you have the opportunity to kindly educate someone who might not know them. Practicing these principles is a way we can ensure a lasting experience for generations. Take your friends and family out and enjoy the awe of this incredible state — and leave it the way it was.
Leave No Trace