Immersion Traveler: Leave No Trace Behind

By Sheryl Kayne

denali I learned firsthand about Leave No Trace Behind while drinking hot chocolate.  I had a summer job working in Alaska’s Denali National Park, performing living history vignettes for visitors on women in the gold rush and conservation. On my day off, I was one of 51 other people signed up for an eight hour bus trip into Denali National Park.

In an effort to cut down on the impact of approximately 3 million visitors each year to the park, individual cars were not allowed past the first few miles.  Buses took visitors through the park, stopping to observe bear, moose, sheep, ptarmigan, and whatever else could be seen from the bus with binoculars. On that particular day a huge black wolf followed our bus for about a mile and later we came across a family of red fox with three babies peeking out from their fox holes between the rocks.  It was very exciting. I learned that brown bear come in a multitude of colors including black, brown, grayish and tone.

We stopped for a bathroom and snack break.  Annaleigh, the bus driver, handed out cookies and asked for our attention as she put out two containers, one blue, one red. “The blue container has hot chocolate for you to enjoy. The red container is for you to spill out the excess hot chocolate you don’t drink.” She paused as we all looked at her quizzically. “We practice Leave no Trace behind. Do not spill out any drinks onto the ground.  That’s why I put a drop cloth under the hot chocolate, to collect any drips.  The sugar, milk and chocolate can make animals sick and don’t belong in the ground.  Please think about everything you are doing, and leave no trace behind yourself. Nothing should change because you were here to visit.”

I thought back to the night I’d had a date with a nonstop, gum chewing lawyer from New Jersey.  As he drove, he removed a piece of gum from his mouth, started a new a stick, and dropped something out of the window.

“What did you just do?” I snapped at him.

“What are you, my mother?” he darted back.

“Really, did you just litter?”

“No,” he said in a little bad boy voice caught in the act.

“Did you throw out the gum or the wrapper?”

“Both,” he said. I couldn’t believe it. I was blown away that anyone in this day and time would throw anything out of a window as if it didn’t matter.

“A bird could choke and die on your old gum.” I chose not to see the gum chewing lawyer again, but I did send him a gift, a reusable trash bag for his car.

The night before my bus ride into Denali I had attended a class with
Park Ranger Tom on the importance of practicing Leave No Trace Behind for a backcountry wilderness hiking trip I planned to take. “You need to understand,” said Ranger Tom, “that Leave No Trace is an attitude that applies to your own front porch, backyard or park just as much as it does to the wilderness.”

I practice his words. Earth Day will be celebrated this month all over the country in many different ways. Many communities are holding events with exhibitors providing information on recycling, global warming, and hybrid vehicles.  Visitors are encouraged to walk, bike or take the bus to participating events.

What will you do to celebrate Earth Day? My friend Marlene collects lint from the clothes dryer to stuff pillows.  Janice collects egg cartons to give to a friend with chickens.  And Sarah recycles the tops of bottles for art projects at her local school. What will your celebration or contribution be? I’m going to take a walk in a nature preserve, enjoying it exactly the way it is, without leaving anything behind but my footsteps.

Sheryl Kayne is the author of  IMMERSION TRAVEL USA: THE BEST & MOST MEANINGFUL VOLUNTEERING, LIVING & LEARNING EXCURSIONS. (Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton & Company), with  over 200 immersion travel listings all over the USA and is available in bookstores across the country. Check out her website, www.immersiontraveler.com, and get in touch with her at Sheryl@immersiontraveler.com.

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