A couple of weeks ago, my sweetheart, Marilyn, and I were among the first people to camp in a new site on Treat Island, between Eastport and Lubec, Maine.
The island is owned by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust (mcht.org), and it is opening it to the public for recreational use. That includes creating several new hiking trails and a primitive campsite on the 70-acre island.
The new campsite is sheltered from the wind among the alders in a flat spot a couple of feet above the highest high tide line. It has a carpet of lichens growing over beach gravel (smooth stones ranging from grape- to walnut-size). With foam pads and an air mattress beneath our sleeping bag, it was very comfy, indeed. Part of the reason it was chosen, I'm sure, was the durable surface that will stand up to the added human traffic the campsite will bring to the island. Camping on durable surfaces is one of the basic principles of "Leave No Trace."
Leave No Trace is the art of traveling through comparatively wild areas with as little impact as possible. There isn't much, if any, true wilderness east of the Mississippi/south of the St. Lawrence -- though there are places that still feel like wilderness and many that, now protected, are returning to wilderness. Most of our "wild" places, like Treat Island, have been heavily impacted by man and are slowly reverting to wild over time.
The trick with all wild places is to take the maximum amount of enjoyment that we can from our time outdoors, while doing as little damage and having as little overall impact as we possibly can. That way, we leave beautiful wild places to enjoy in the future.
The original tenet for minimizing your impact was "Take nothing but photos; leave nothing but footprints." Unfortunately, even footprints are impact -- as anyone who has ever walked a heavily used hiking trail can tell you. Every step, especially wearing hiking boots with "waffle stomper" soles, churns up dirt and prepares it for washing away with the next rain.
We were there with a group of 12 students from the Outdoor Recreation program at Washington County Community College, a two-year program for people interested in careers in the outdoors. Leave No Trace training and awareness is a big part of what these kids were being taught.
There are many more concepts involved in the notion of Leave No Trace. You can find them below. But, mostly, it's just awareness and common sense. Think about what you're doing when you are outdoors. Make sure you are doing the least damage possible in your passage. Leave no trace. Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
Campfires and hygiene
Another of the key components of the Leave No Trace ethic is minimizing campfire impact. While we were on Treat Island, the group disassembled several old firepits and scattered the stones. The new managers of Treat Island want all campfires built below the high tide line, so the water will flush way ash and charcoal and scour the stones. We built our fire using abundant driftwood.
A group as big as ours also generates a lot of trash. We, of course, carried out every scrap of trash we generated and more we found, besides.
Knowing how to deal with your own wastes is an important part of the Leave No Trace ethic. It obviously is a big problem with a group like ours -- 14 people staying overnight generates a lot of human waste. We used toilet kits from Clean Waste Systems (cleanwaste.com) or Biffy Bags (biffybag.com), which are ideal for island sites that don't have enough topsoil for digging "cathole" latrines. Most of the island campsite along the Maine coast have "carry everything out" policies. If you plan ahead, it's easy to comply.
More on Leave No Trace
If you are interested in lessening your impacts as you explore, I'd suggest the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (www.lnt.org). It partners with many other organizations to educate individuals and whole communities in LNT principles. They even have a nifty online course anyone can take.
Motorized travel is a fact of life in today's world and the Tread Lightly organization (treadlightly.org) addresses that community in addition to more traditional forms of adventuring. They also have a cool website for kids at www.treadlightlykids.org
Take a moment, familiarize yourself with the simple principles, then see if you can Leave No Trace the next time you go adventuring.