Responsible Outdoor Recreation: Leave No Trace

Responsible Outdoor Recreation: Leave No Trace

By Stella J. Raasch

What comes to mind when you think of the great outdoors? Initially, you may think of the classic John Candy movie, “The Great Outdoors.” Next, your thoughts will likely gravitate toward notions of open space, fresh air, beautiful surroundings…and trash! Since the advent of COVID, flocks of people have migrated to outdoor spaces in record-breaking numbers, many of whom are newbies to outdoor recreation. While it is awesome to see so many people enjoying the outdoors, it has either created and/or exacerbated some environmental issues.

The news has been inundated with concerns from environmentalists, as well as the general public, about trash being left at campsites, fires left unattended, trash and cigarette butts tossed into the lakes/rivers, dog poop not picked up, and dog poop bags left on trails. Recently, while hiking around Monarch Lake in the Arapaho National Recreation Area, we found three poop bags that had been left off to the side of the trail. Normally, I would give that person the benefit of the doubt, asserting that they would return to pick it up. But, we see this too often for me to able to offer that anymore. That weekend, we were hiking with a pup and had no difficulty with picking up the poop and carrying it with us. What is the problem then? 

Responsible Outdoor Recreation: Leave No Trace

A few months ago, in the Sky-Hi News police blotter, police had responded to a campfire that had been left unattended. This is always wrong and irresponsible, but considering the fire ban at that time and the recent East Troublesome Fire last year, it makes it even more concerning. It leads me to believe that those campers have no respect for the great outdoors, and that they are clueless (or simply do not care) about the devastation that the area and its residents recently suffered. It is the ignorance of campers like that who pose a threat to the great outdoors. 

The notion of responsible outdoor recreation through leaving no trace seems like it would just be common sense, although I am the type of person who always cleans and tidies up everything at hotels, as a way of being respectful toward the housekeeping staff. So hearing about people leaving trash at a campsite, while knowing that someone else will be utilizing it after them is abhorrent to me. There can be only one answer to this: they do not care. They do not care about other campers who would like to enjoy that space, nor do they care about the environment.

This behavior causes my science brain to want to categorize the ‘type’ of people doing this, and then analyze the statistics, looking for averages. For instance, are low socioeconomic backgrounds a factor? What type of jobs do they have? How often have they camped versus going to a theme park where other people pick up after them? What age group are they? Do they own their home versus rent? Do they live in the city or a rural area? What was their upbringing like? 

I’m certain research studies will be done on responsible outdoor recreation in an effort to better understand this behavior, as well as the group(s) exhibiting them. But for now, I will say that it is heartbreaking to those, like Larry and I, who are not only outdoor adventure junkies but also environmentally conscientious people. We could easily be classified as “tree huggers,” and we are proud of it! 

We are like this because we understand (and deeply care about) our impact upon the environment, and because we want to help protect it for future generations. Apparently, however, there are far too many who do not, and they are polluting outdoor recreation areas. Please, leave our outdoors clean. 

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