To many of us, summer means getting outside. And whether you’re itching to spend the day on a boat, on the trail, or at a campground, there’s no better place to enjoy the beauty of nature than northern Michigan.
But to make sure that our beautiful natural resources are around for generations to come, outdoor recreationists should follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace (LNT). Below, we break down the how and why behind these guidelines so we can all help keep NoMi’s woods and waters healthy:
- Plan Ahead & Prepare: Make sure to familiarize yourself with the management regulations and terrain where you’ll be traveling. Be realistic about route distances to ensure you camp in a safe, designated location, and be sure to pay attention to campsite group size limitations. Heed any campfire bans, and bring a camp stove for cooking if a ban is in place.
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces: Stay on designated trails, and avoid using informal social trails. Established trails take into consideration vegetation, topographical features, and visitor safety when they’re designed; social trails don’t, and they often contribute significantly to erosion. In the backcountry, camp at established tent sites to avoid further damage to vegetation, and always camp at least 200 yards from a water source.
- Dispose of Waste Properly: Use provided waste receptables if they’re available, but if there are none, your new mantra is “Pack it in, pack it out.” Don’t attempt to burn trash or bury it. Rather, bring a few plastic bags (gallon Ziplocs work well) to take all your garbage with you when you leave, including food waste, which can be dangerous for wildlife, not to mention smelly for the next visitor. And about human waste: if there are no established restrooms, digging a 6-8” deep cathole is the best practice. Bring along a small trowel for this purpose. And even though some might find it gross, to truly follow LNT principles, it’s recommended to either use natural toilet paper (leaves, stones, snow, etc.) or pack out your used TP. (Another great reason to bring those plastic bags!)
- Leave What You Find: Leave vegetation as you found it. Don’t pick wildflowers, and resist the urge to carve your initials into a tree, which degrades the natural aesthetic for other visitors and can harm and even kill the tree. This principle even applies to vegetation no longer living – if you clear a campsite of pine cones, for example, replace them before you leave – as well as inanimate objects like rocks and cultural artifacts like pot shards. Instead of taking them with you, try taking an Instagram-worthy photo!
- Minimize Campfire Impacts: Many of us can’t imagine camping without the sound of a crackling campfire and the smell of woodsmoke, but a camp stove is the most LNT-friendly cooking option. If you really want to have a fire though, check that there’s not a current fire ban and build it in an existing fire ring. Either buy your firewood from a local source to avoid spreading invasive forest pests or gather it responsibly at your campsite (if that’s allowed) by targeting dead and downed wood over a wide area. And of course, always put your campfire completely out with water – remember, if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.
- Respect Wildlife: No matter how fluffy they look or friendly they may seem, wild animals do not want you to approach them or feed them. If you get too close, wildlife may attack out of fear or to protect their young, and human food can make them sick. Loud noises are stressful to animals too; travel quietly to avoid disturbing them. (One exception is in areas with high bear populations, where it’s smart to talk or sing to avoid startling them). When camping, use bear lockers if they’re provided, and stash everything that has a scent – even toiletries like toothpaste – in them at night. If bear lockers aren’t present, make sure you know how to hang your food before you head out.
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors: The way you recreate in the outdoors impacts not just the landscape and watershed but also your fellow outdoorspeople. Avoid excessive noise, and yield to others on the trail. And as much as we love Fido, please follow leash regulations, keep pets under control at all times, and pick up their poop!
Following these guidelines is one of the best ways to ensure that everyone can enjoy the great outdoors this summer and for years to come. You can find out more at LNT.org or by following the Recreate Responsibly coalition at @RecreateResponsibly. See ya out there!