The Importance of Leave No Trace in Colorado

Leave No Trace in Colorado

If you’re an outdoors enthusiast, something you may have heard along the way is “Leave No Trace.” This year, Every year, people come to Colorado’s great outdoors for adventure and a respite from their homes. It’s wonderful to see so many new faces on the trails, trying new sports like mountain biking or camping. Many are coming from out of state to see what Colorado offers. With so many people out in the mountains, following Leave No Trace practices is more critical than ever.

What is Leave No Trace?

Leave No Trace (LNT) is an environmental initiative that provides a framework of seven practices for anyone interacting with the great outdoors. It’s an easy-to-remember phrase that helps you make minimal alterations to the environment around you to preserve nature for not only other humans who want to enjoy it but also for the wildlife that calls it home. The general idea of Leave No Trace is simple: when you get back into your car and leave the trail, no one should be able to tell you were there. That means packing out your trash, respecting the trail, wildflowers, and other natural features you encounter along the way, and not disturbing wildlife. If you’re camping, it means not digging trenches for your tent or building shelters and structures on public land. If you’re out on a romantic excursion, it means no carving your initials into the side of a tree. leave no trace colorado

Leave No Trace in Colorado

The phrase “Leave No Trace” has been around for decades. The organization started in 1994 and is headquartered in Colorado. Since the '90s, Leave No Trace has grown exponentially, partnering with states, federal bureaus like BLM and the National Park Service, corporate partners, and schools nationwide. Their goal is to teach people of all ages how they can do their part to preserve nature. In Colorado, LNT provides site-specific training and restoration projects to popular Hot Spots like Mount Bierstadt, the Maroon Bells, and the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness to help these heavily trafficked areas stay pristine and wild. They also partner with summer camps to help kids become ethical adventurers and stewards of nature from a young age.

7 Tips For Your Colorado Adventure

Leave No Trace teaches people that you can take seven main actions to minimize your impact when interacting with nature.
  1. Know Before You Go. Educate yourself before you head outside. Is the trail you plan on hiking very popular and crowded on weekends? Consider going on a weekday or at an off-peak time of day (keep an eye on the weather!) or even choosing a different, less heavily trafficked trail. Know Before You Go also means being prepared for whatever you encounter on your adventure. Pack enough water for your trip and layers of clothing, sunscreen, snacks, first aid supplies, and other things you might need. Using a reusable water bottle or a thermos for your beverages is also essential.
  2. Stick to the Trail. When you can see switchback after switchback in front of you, it can be tempting to create a shortcut, but stepping off the trail means you risk damaging the plants that grow there and creating erosion patterns that could ultimately destroy the mountainside. Trails are there for a reason, and they are designed to have the least impact on nature, so as tedious as it may be, please, no trailblazing.
  3. Leave It As You Find It. We’ve all been there—you find the perfect, smoothest rock and want to bring it home for your garden, or the most colorful, vibrant wildflower you know would look whimsical and sweet tucked behind your ear. But taking bits of nature away from where they belong—whether it’s dragging logs across a rock face to make an excellent shelter or stepping into an abandoned historical structure and damaging the nature that has grown up around it—means you’re leaving your mark, and potentially ruining the same unique find for anyone who comes after you. So next time you see a beautiful wildflower, take a picture. It’ll last longer.
  4. Trash the Trash. Pack it in, pack it out. Get used to carrying a small trash bag in your backpack if you want to keep everything together and in one place. This includes biodegradable trash like fruit peels or pits, too, including dog poop. Dispose of these items only in a designated trash receptacle; if there isn’t one, you must hold on to it until you find one.
  5. Be Careful With Fire. The Pine Gulch Wildfire of 2020 has been named the largest wildfire in Colorado history. A lightning strike started it, but that’s not always the case. Colorado’s dry climate means it’s like a tinderbox during the summer, and wildfires are a severe risk. Human-caused wildfires create immeasurable damage to the environment and put both people and wildlife at serious risk. ALWAYS check to see if there’s a burn ban before starting a fire, and keep those campfires small and manageable when you light them. Never let a fire burn unattended, and always drown your fire with water until you can physically handle the embers with your bare hands. As for smoking in nature? Don’t. But if you have to, put your cigarettes out safely, and never leave your butts on the ground.
  6. Keep Wildlife Wild. It sounds like common sense, but many people out there approach wildlife to get that perfect up-close picture or feed them to try and make friends. But this does more harm than good—once animals are accustomed to humans or come to expect food, they can become dangerous and might even have to be killed. Use bear-safe canisters when hiking or camping in bear country, pack away your food waste instead of tossing it where critters will find it, and keep your dog(s) on a leash so no one gets into a dangerous situation.
  7. Share Our Trails and Parks. You’re not the only person on the trail, meaning you need to be respectful to the others you’re sharing it with. Everyone is there to enjoy nature, so be considerate by silencing your cell phone and speaking softly to your companions to preserve tranquility. Avoid playing loud music, and yield to hikers or bikers moving much faster than you or those coming uphill when you’re on your way down—they need the momentum more than you! And like we said above, try to seek out less crowded trails so you can enjoy the peace and quiet of nature without the crowds.

Why is Leave No Trace Important?

Did you know that 9 out of 10 people are unaware of the environmental impact of their actions? Leave No Trace helps you remember that everything you do in nature carries greater consequences. Those who disregard their impact in the wild face the danger of negatively impacting the world around them. Some of the problems Leave No Trace aims to circumvent include damage to trail systems, water pollution, park overcrowding, disturbing wildlife, and human-started wildfires. Leaving no trace when you explore nature is always an important initiative. Still, with visitors flocking to Colorado from other states and plenty of beginner hikers, bikers, and adventurers dipping their toes into the Colorado outdoors, it’s more important than ever. Overcrowding is a significant factor when it comes to the destruction of trail systems and natural areas. Not everyone who visits these places understands that they are causing harm.

How Can I Help?

Leave No Trace is always looking for volunteers for its cleanup initiatives, which take place on popular trails and in the heart of Colorado’s biggest cities. It also accepts donations for further outreach and education, restoration projects, and other valuable initiatives. However, perhaps the most important thing you can do for Leave No Trace is to start at the individual level. Whenever you step outside, make sure you’re following the 7 Leave No Trace Principles. If you see someone on the trail ignoring these guidelines, don’t get angry—remember, they’re probably part of the 90% of people who don’t know they’re causing harm. Use the situation as an opportunity for gentle education. This means calmly explaining why their behavior is harmful and what they could do instead. And yeah, we get it; confrontation in any form isn’t fun for a lot of people, and depending on the situation, could get heated, so if you’re not comfortable speaking out, you could also do your part by picking up trash you see on the trail, even if it’s not yours. By working together and being conscious of our impact on the world around us, we can keep Colorado beautiful and pristine for generations to come.

By Emily Krempholtz

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