At Explore Austin, we believe the outdoors is a superior learning environment, and we take hundreds of kids outside to learn about leadership, teamwork, and adventure every year. The outdoors has been proven to benefit children and teens more than any other population, particularly in the area of academic achievement. Basically, nature rocks. And because nature is so awesome, we teach our Explorers the value of respecting it. At Explore Austin, we follow a set of principles known as Leave No Trace.
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is the most widely accepted outdoor ethics program taught on public lands. It is an organization devoted to protecting our planet’s natural spaces by teaching its inhabitants how to enjoy the land responsibly and respectfully. There are seven Leave No Trace (LNT) principles, and each one is important for the protection of our planet.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: In order to ensure the smoothness of our expeditions, be it a Saturday Challenge or a weeklong Summer Wilderness Trip, our Mentors and Trip Leaders research the places we take our Explorers beforehand, noting any special regulations or rules the locations may have. Explore Austin also teaches their Explorers how to utilize maps and compasses to eliminate the use of impacting trail markers, such as marking paint, flagging, or cairns.
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: In order to maintain the beautiful environments we adventure through on foot, bike, or boat, we camp in established campsite areas and follow established trails. As the LNT Center for Outdoor Ethics puts it, “good campsites are found, not made.” When we are leading our older Explorers through the less-established backcountry areas of Colorado and Wyoming, there isn’t always an established trail or campsite. In these cases, we disperse our Explorers as they travel across the land to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Ahhh, the fun stuff. This is where the importance of proper outdoor pooping technique comes in. According to LNT principle, solid human waste must be disposed of in a cathole 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet away from the trail, camp, and any water source. All toilet paper and hygiene products must be packed out (yes, we make our Explorers pack out their dirty toilet paper). In addition, we pack out all trash and leftover food.
4. Leave What You Find: We’ve all heard the saying, “If every single person who visited a mountain took a rock home with them, in 50 years there wouldn’t be a mountain left to visit.” We teach our Explorers to enjoy the environments they spend time in without disrupting the ecosystem. Take pictures, leave only memories.
5. Minimize Fire Impacts: Fires can seem like a necessary component for enjoying time outdoors, but it has the potential to be damaging to the environment. Our Explorers build fires only where permitted, and they use established fire rings. We also teach our Explorers to use lightweight backcountry stoves to cook meals in areas where fires are prohibited.
6. Respect Wildlife: We teach our Explorers to respect the wildlife we encounter by maintaining a safe distance and refraining from feeding them (no matter how cute they may look)! In primitive areas, we teach our Explorers how to secure food rations by rigging up bear bags.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Finally, we teach our Explorers to respect other people who are seeking to enjoy the outdoors by refraining from shouting and talking loudly and being courteous to others on the trail.
At Explore Austin, we see the positive changes the outdoors makes in our Explorers every day. We show our love and appreciation for our planet by following the seven principles of Leave No Trace and we encourage anyone who enjoys spending time outside to do the same.
-Rachel Veale, Development and Marketing Intern