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868 Minimum Impact Usage
Wilderness Responsibility

Crowds of hikers climb the trails of Bryce Canyon Natioanl Park

When walking down a trail it is not uncommon to see the tracks of those who decided it was better for them to take a shortcut rather than to stay on the trail and walk around the switchback. We live in a culture of shortcuts. Traveling by auto, we are quick to take a shortcut through a neighborhood to avoid a traffic light. We even brag about the time saving effects of the shortcut, so why would we not take a shortcut on a trail? Everybody does it ... and the Parks are filled with every-bodies.

Go to any of the popular National Parks and you will find crowds (well, open National Parks - as all Parks are presently defunded) of people enjoying the Parks. We should expect there to be crowds in the Parks for they are filled with marvels and wonders. Visitors come to see and awe.

For years we have been told the benefits of getting back to nature. Walk away from the city and breathe clean air and drink pure water, frolic in the fields and chase elk across the tundra, hike the trails and camp among the trees and along the streams. Renew yourself as you commune with nature and the essence of life. Well, the masses have listened and have arrived, hungry for adventure.

The upswing in visitors is not just in the National Parks, but on all Public Lands and in all wilderness areas. Unfortunately, the lands show the wear of the many visitors. Compounding the problems are that so many of visitors are not experienced outdoor persons. Hiking seems like such an easy skill, they have walked all their lives.

In the Tetons this summer we saw seemingly very inexperienced hikers climbing steep hills with limited water and gear, trying to reach a mountain destination. When they finally decided to turn around, these hikers who seemed spent as they struggled up the trail, would look for any shortcut off the mountain. That is just our culture's human nature.

To preserve the lands for the generations to come we must learn to use the lands with care, we must learn minimum impact usage. The days of carrying axes and saws, fire building, clearing vegetation for a campsite, trenching, shortcutting, etc are all gone. There are kinder ways to visit or live in the wilds.

The modern user of the wilds must learn to travel while creating minimal damage to the area. It is impossible to walk a trail without leaving some signs of passage, but our tracks must be minimized. Most humans are but visitors to the parks and wilderness and should act accordingly. When a visitor comes into our homes there is a certain etiquette of social responsibility that governs their actions. Basically, the visitor shows respect, is gracious, is careful to avoid doing any damage, and follows the "house" rules.

In the parks a similar responsibility exists. When we go to the Parks, Public Lands, and wildernesses, we are the visitors. To practice our goal of minimum impact usage we must accept our visitor's status and show wilderness responsibility. Not all visitors are experienced but they can all learn the basics: show respect, be gracious, use care to avoid doing damage, and always following the rules of the land.

From those simple social norms without any further education, expectations of acceptable use is possible.

A few notes on Wilderness Responsibility ...

For visitors to accept Wilderness Responsibility they must recognize that they are part of the problem before they can be part of the solution.

On a recent trail run, I traveled on a trail I had not hiked or run in a while. The trail seemed wider and more eroded than I remembered. It seemed very used and in need of some care. I was sad. Of course I was running on the eroded trail and adding my share of damage. I was part of the problem.

The Public Lands are preserved for us, the public, to use, but we must use the lands responsibly.

Outdoor manufacturers must share the responsibility for the increase in usage. It is easier to live comfortably in the wilds. Armed with the best money can buy gear, the learning curve for outdoor skills has been flattened. Gear and equipment must help bring awareness of the importance of practicing minimum impact usage. Badges, patches, or emblems should be printed on all gear as a reminder of wilderness responsibility.

Outdoor gear has also made it easier to practice minimum impact usage. Gear is lighter. If properly used, the lightweight gear will lessen impact.

Trail kiosks should advertise for practicing minimum impact usage.

Experienced hikers and outdoor adventurers learn the importance of energy conservation. They do not overstretch their physical limits and are capable of making minimum impact decisions.

Some of our favorite books on Minimum Impact Usage are Backwood Ethics (Amazon Link) - Waterman, Soft Paths - Hampton and Cole, and Leave No Trace - Harmon. Backwood Ethics brings more to the table than just rules or principles and is a good read.

Happy Wilderness Responsibility trails

Minimum Impact Usage - intro

Minimum Impact Usage - Wilderness Responsibility

Minimum Impact Usage - Wilderness Responsibility - Respect

Minimum Impact Usage - Wilderness Responsibility - Gracious

Minimum Impact Usage - Wilderness Responsibility - Avoiding Damage

Minimum Impact Usage - Wilderness Responsibility - House Rules

Minimum Impact Usage - Actions

Minimum Impact Usage - Actions - Knowledge

Minimum Impact Usage - Actions - Planning

Minimum Impact Usage - Actions - Giving Back

Minimum Impact Usage - Actions - Awareness and Prevention


Other links

Wilderness Education Association

Leave No Trace



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