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Leave It Better

The Painted Hills in Oregon

I remember a quote that I had read when I was a boy that has stayed with me my whole life. Robert Baden-Powell is quoted as saying, “Try and leave this world a little better than you found it…”  He was referring to being a good human, but in this day and age of increased recreational use of the outdoors, it is being used more as a way to increase the awareness of the proper care and use of our public lands. “Leave it better than you found it” is the new “Leave No Trace”. Those of us who care must do more than leave no trace. We need to try to offset the effects of those who won’t.

When the coronavirus came it changed almost every aspect of our lives. People started working from home. The travel restrictions cancelled a lot of people’s vacation plans. Cruise ship and air travel became impractical, as did hotel and resort stays. Even movie theaters and public places such as restaurants saw a dramatic decrease in business or were closed completely. With these restrictions came a new form of vacation trend, visiting the open outdoors. Everyone, including many who had never spent time in Nature, headed out to hike and camp seeking something other than sitting inside until the coast is clear.

Hiking and camping have seen a huge surge. Lawrence Lujan, the United States Forest Service (USFS) public affairs specialist is quoted as saying, “The visitation that we typically saw on the weekend, we were seeing during the week. And the visitation that we typically saw during a holiday weekend, like the Fourth of July, we were seeing on weekends.” What once was a weekend activity became one that was being done any day of the week.

The inevitable problems that come with the increased use of recreational lands are mostly wear and tear, but there are those who aren’t familiar with how to care for the outdoors, or just don’t care, that create other problems. Off trail hiking in sensitive terrain, off road driving or parking in restricted areas, trampling vegetation, illegal or abandoned campfires, vandalism and leaving trash behind have all increased.

The increase of visitation to the outdoors isn’t all bad news. With more people coming out to these beautiful natural places comes the appreciation of these places by more people. Typically, when someone visits a special place, one that they connect with and fall in love with, they are more apt to put forth an effort to preserve it. Volunteerism has increased with the increase in visitation but it’s not enough to offset the effects of the public loving these places to death. Everyone needs to accept the responsibility to help care for the land that we use as we use it.

So how can we leave these places better? Many times it’s just a matter of carrying a trash bag in your pack to gather trash and litter others leave behind. Volunteering with organizations that help to develop and maintain these places is becoming essential, and popular. If you’re unable to volunteer, donating to these organizations helps them greatly – I support groups such as Trailkeepers of Oregon. We need to teach our children by setting an example for them to follow. Also raising the awareness of those that you associate with to adopt the Leave it better principle of outdoor use.

Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to care for these special places. It’s up to us to assume that responsibility and apply it to how we use our shared public lands.

The 7 Leave No Trace Principles

  • 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.