Eyes and Ears for South Hill
Sunday, July 17, 2011
A documentation of my backpacking adventure in the Adirondacks
As a kid growing up I always had an affinity for the outdoors – 90% of my summer days would be spent with my cousin, either playing in his backyard river or in my tree house. A few times a year our families would go camping, but it was pull-your-car-up-to-the-campsite style. We’d go hiking and swimming, make our campfire and smores, and sleep in tents. It was an experience in living with nature, but in a “front country” way, and I’m sure we left our traces.
As an Environmental Studies major at Ithaca College, I’ve learned about the affects that agriculture, industrialization, fossil fuel usage, resource depletion, etc, have on the land and other living beings, but I hadn’t taken much time to examine how our recreation – our attempt at reconnecting with nature – can have such a negative impact on the very nature that we are trying to appreciate.
Does that mean that we shouldn’t appreciate nature first hand? Should we stay confined in our homes and just let nature be nature, so we don’t inadvertently destroy it? No. Instead, we need to learn to enjoy nature in a way that also respects it and maintains its ability to be fully enjoyed by future generations. One way to do this is to practice the principles of Leave No Trace: Outdoor Ethics.
This past weekend was a whole new experience for me. I had never been backpacking before; I never had to personally carry everything in and everything out of a campsite. The first principle of Leave No Trace is “plan ahead and prepare”. Well, what exactly was I supposed to prepare? Luckily, the course instructor provided us with a very detailed list of items to bring, and I did my best to come up with them all. I didn’t have a very compact sleeping bag, so it took up more than half of my pack, and I couldn’t find any non-cotton clothing (important because cotton does not dry fast once it gets wet). When I checked the forecast for the next two days, there was no rain predicted for my time on the trip so I figured I would be okay – oh how very wrong I was… I woke up in our tent in the middle of a thunderstorm, but luckily I only had to deal with being soggy for the hike back to the loj on the last day.
Among the most important items to bring was a good pair of hiking boots, which luckily I had. Good shoes helped me abide by the second principle: “Travel and camp on durable surfaces,” because it allowed me to walk directly through a patch of mud along the trail, as opposed to walking around it and gradually making the trail wider. You might think that your footsteps alone won’t make the trail any wider, but if every single person who walked that trail went around the mud, then there’d be a substantial impact.
Now I will admit, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for me was the idea of having to follow principle #3: “Dispose of waste properly”. I’m the type of person that will do just about anything to avoid having to use the bathroom out in the middle of the woods. But in the end I will admit, it wasn’t that bad. I managed to escape with no physical or emotional scaring (aside from a few mosquito bites on my rear!)
There was also the issue of trash and food waste. I had always believed that food waste was no big deal, because it would just decompose anyway, right? But it’s important to not just throw your food waste in the woods around you. You don’t know how your apple core might affect the wildlife in that area, or what kind of wildlife your apple core might attract to your campsite (and who knows, you might end up looking like a tastier treat than that apple core!) Most wildlife in this area will not want to eat you, but nonetheless, you still don’t want to attract them to your campsite for health and safety reasons.
Because this was a trainer’s course – meaning that upon completion I will be able to teach awareness workshops – a big focus of the course was learning how to teach others. Each one of the students taking the course was assigned a principle on which to lead a small lesson, and after the lesson the instructors would give us feedback on our teaching. Principle #4 was mine to teach: “Leave what you find”. When you’re hiking or camping, often times you’ll find interesting objects, both natural and otherwise, and many people like to take souvenirs home with them to remember their time in the woods. Leave No Trace encourages that instead of taking an object home, either take a picture of it, or even draw it. Appreciate the object for what it is, but leave it there for someone else to appreciate after you leave. You may not think that one little object will make a big difference, but if everyone took something from the land then the experience of hiking or camping in that area would be significantly affected. After I explained all this, I took the group outside and asked everyone to find something interesting that they might want to keep. I then asked everyone to give one reason why it might not be a good idea to take that object back with him or her. It was a fun exercise to see what people picked and what their explanations were.
The last three principles of Leave No Trace are “Minimize campfire impacts”, “Respect Wildlife”, and “Be considerate to other guests”. For more information about these principles and others, check out http://www.lnt.org/programs/principles.php
I’m looking forward to incorporating Leave No Trace into IC Natural Lands’ workshops, and training sessions for the Stewards program. If you have any ideas or want to get involved, let me know! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Amber Zadrozny, ICNL Intern, Environmental Studies '13