It may seem self-evident that an outdoor enthusiast cares about protecting the great outdoors. But not all of us are always good stewards of our natural world. Overfishing and overhunting can disrupt a habitat's balance. Snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles are noisy and pollute. Mountain bikes and horseback riders can chew up the landscape. Even while just hiking and camping, people leave their mark. In short, people should love the environment, but not smother it.
A number of groups have published guidelines or "codes of ethics" for outdoor enthusiasts. One such group is Leave No Trace, a nonprofit organization devoted to inspiring responsible outdoor recreation. Their Web site offers seven principles of outdoor ethics. Here are some tips that most groups seem to agree on:
- Plan ahead.
Camping or hiking responsibly requires knowing the environment that you'll be occupying – marked trails, designated campgrounds, animals you may encounter, and more. Be prepared!
- Stay the course.
If you're hiking in a muddy area, it's easy to create secondary paths as you try to sidestep the wet stuff. Avoid this by walking on rocks or logs. If you have no other choice, stay on the designated trail and walk through the mud. (This is part of planning ahead!)
- Use an existing campsite.
Don't create a new campsite when you can use an existing one.
- Keep fires small.
Most areas have rules about how big your campfire can be. You can minimize your fire by using smaller pieces of wood.
- Clean up.
Leave your campsite clean for the next outdoor enthusiasts.
- Think reusable.
Pack your food in reusable, collapsible containers instead of taking along disposable boxes and cans.
- Don't bother wildlife.
Aside from the fact that some animals can hurt you, you could also disrupt mating or nesting seasons. And feeding wildlife is always a bad idea. Once wild animals associate food with humans a dangerous situation is created for both groups.
The International Mountain Biking Association publishes its own tips:
- Ride responsibly.
This means ride with respect for your environment as well as for other riders.
Local mountain biking clubs are essential for keeping trails open and maintained.
Ensure continued trail access by pitching in on responsible trail maintenance.
Similar rules for responsible behavior can be applied to horseback riding and persons who use off-road (NOT off-the-trail) vehicles.
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