New hikers constantly ply us with questions: What gear should I buy? What's the best trail in Oklahoma? How can I leave the woods in better shape than I found them? For a refresher on the last question, we went to Ben Lawhon, education director for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a nonprofit group dedicated to reducing recreational impact on the wilderness. He described the seven guidelines Leave No Trace recommends.
- Plan ahead "An unprepared hiker creates a higher risk for impact. If you didn't know you needed gaiters," explains Lawhon, "you might trample vegetation to keep your boots dry instead of hiking through the puddles." Call a ranger to learn about terrain, weather, and regulations.
- Travel on durable surfaces "They rebound better than delicate ones," says Lawhon. Hike on rock, sand, gravel, and established trails; avoid stream banks, cryptobiotic soil, and alpine plants.
- Dispose of waste properly Pack out what you bring in (including toilet paper), disperse cooking and washing water, and bury solid human waste in a 6-inch cathole. Wash, do dishes, and answer nature's call at least 200 feet from the trail, camp, or any water source.
- Leave what you find "Hikers can spread nonnative species, which is a huge cause of habitat destruction," explains Lawhon. "By not taking plants or animals, and cleaning your boots before you leave the trailhead, you can make a difference."
- Minimize campfire impact If fires are legal, use established rings, a mound, or a fire pan, and gather only dead wood no thicker than your wrist.
- Respect wildlife Observe animals from a distance and never feed them. "This is a safety issue," says Lawhon. "Once a squirrel or a bear gets a taste for human foods, it actively seeks them out, which can lead to dangerous behavior."
- Be considerate of other visitors "This is the do-unto-others rule--yield to fellow hikers, keep noise levels down, and camp away from the trail," says Lawhon. "Remember, we're all trying to enjoy a finite resource."
For details on each principle, visit www.lnt.org. Leave No Trace also offers Awareness Workshops across the United States; check Web site for days and locations.
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