For the many, many years I spent as a Girl Scout (and my time infiltrating my brother’s Cub Scout troop), there was one particular saying that has rung consistently through my ears long since selling my last box of cookies. Our troop leaders, camp counselors, and peers would always preach the same thing, “Leave it better than you found it.” Of course, this can be taken in a variety of wonderfully optimistic ways to view your life beyond simply demanding that young girls leave no trace of their camping extravaganzas behind. However, today I am speaking to the mindset of not only appreciating the natural world but also making sure that you are doing your part in ensuring that it sticks around for future generations to enjoy as well.
Hopefully, you aren’t the type of person to leave a trash trail behind you each time you head out on a hike (if you are, STOP THAT!), but there’s a lot more that you can be doing to ensure your outdoor outings are being eco-friendly beyond doing just the bare minimum.
- Stick to the paths.
While trailblazing is a whole separate conversation, there’s actually a lot more to specific pathways than you might think. Of course, it’s always best to stay on trails that are predetermined to be the safest pathways for beginner to moderate outdoorsy folks like ourselves in order to prevent any self-inflicted injuries. But from an environmental standpoint, veering off course can cause detrimental damage to the local ecosystems. Paths are great because you avoid the troubles of accidentally stampeding through someone else’s habitat (why would you want to risk demolishing a cute little baby mouse’s home??? How will his mom find him if you trample his home???), and marked out trails also avoid the possibility of severely damaging ferns and other plants happily existing, free from the bottom of your sneakers.
- Respect wildlife.
I love seeing an animal in the woods as much as the next nature girl, but it’s important to observe wildlife from a distance and always respect their space. Not only are you keeping yourself safe from potential vector-transmitted diseases and pathogens, but you’re also keeping that cuddly fellow safer as well. Giving animals space from humans ensures that they keep their natural instinct to stay away from us, which is the best thing to ensure that both ourselves and the wildlife are safest. The same thing goes for feeding species. While it might make for a super cute video to hand a squirrel a Dorito, feeding animals is a big no-no. Not only could you be harming their sensitive diets, but that also allows for animals to associate people with food (which brings a whole slew of other future issues).
- Limit your single-use items.
The quickest and most foolproof way to make sure you don’t accidentally drop any trash on a trail is to, you guessed it, not bring anything with trash on the trail. Ditch your disposable water bottles for a nice refillable one that will last for YEARS. Instead of bringing pre-packaged or ziplock snacks/meals, try using reusable bags or Tupperware containers. This way, you’re eliminating the possibility of leaving any trash behind, and you get the added bonus of cute matching container sets in your backpack.
- Use environmentally-friendly sunscreen.
Tons of cosmetics (especially sunscreens) contain chemicals that can be extremely harmful for lakes and waterways, and more specifically the wildlife that inhabit them. Look for sunscreens and other similar products you use that WON’T cause any harm to the ecosystems you’re exploring. Many lake-friendly sunscreens will typically contain a mineral called Zinc Oxide, which is not only a great environmental choice but also is one of the most effective UV sun protection in the world! Before you head out on your next outdoor adventure, take a minute to search online or in-store for a sunscreen that won’t leave any toxic residues behind.
- Be responsible when lighting fires.
One of the best things about a camping trip or spending time outdoors can be cozying up next to a warm campfire after a long day of exploring, but it’s still important to make sure you’re being environmentally conscious when you do. Always check beforehand to ensure that lighting fires is allowed where you are. Specific locations have rules regarding what time of year and what places allow manmade fires, so be sure you aren’t breaking any rules. Even beyond that, be sure to use your own judgment on whether or not it is safe to light a fire. Particularly dry areas or spots that are in danger of falling over can be potential hazards for fire spreading. Additionally, it’s best to seek out extremely well-cleared locations without any overhanging branches, trees, or other flammable objects. Non-prescribed wildfires can be extremely detrimental to ecosystems, and they’re very difficult to put out once they begin to spread, so make sure you’re doing your part and making smart decisions when lighting fires outdoors.
Having the opportunity to experience and access the natural world is one of life’s greatest gifts, so it’s our job to ensure that we return the favor by keeping nature in its best possible condition. If you see someone causing potential harm to the ecosystem on your next forest stroll, don’t be afraid to speak up. Your actions and decisions now are the leading force in guaranteeing that we can enjoy nature for generations to come.