Without a Trace
Rules to Respect When Exploring the Wild
The Seven Leave No Trace Principles:
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
-Research the best activity for and know the limits of you or your group
– Know the regulations of the area you are visiting
-Prepare for extreme weather, hazards and emergencies
-Always leave a copy of your itinerary with someone at home
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
-Always stay on the trail while hiking
-Wear proper footwear
-Know where you can and can’t camp
- 3. Dispose of Waste Properly
-Carry out what you carry in
-If there’s no privy, dispose of human or pet waste by digging a 6-8 inch hole, at least 150 feet from water or campsites, then cover the hole with soil and leaves
-Do not wash yourself, clothing or dishes with soap within 150 feet of water
- 4. Leave What You Find
-Do not pick wildflowers or leaves
-Do not stack rocks
-Do not carve into trees, lean-tos or rocks
- 5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
-Only emergency fires are permitted above 4,000 feet in the Adirondacks
-Extinguish your fire completely before leaving your campsite
-Where fires are permitted, use the established fire ring or mound
- 6. Respect Wildlife
-Keep pets under control and away from wildlife
-Observe wildlife from a distance
-Follow rules of avoiding wildlife nesting and mating sites when posted
- 7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
-Respect other’s experience in nature
-Avoid being loud
-Step to the side of the trail when another group approaches
Whether you are strolling through a North Country park or embarking on a multi-day trek up an Adirondack High Peak, keep a code of ethics in your back pocket: Leave No Trace.
The LNT guidelines are a framework of behaviors that help protect wild places. The theory behind LNT itself dates back centuries to indigenous cultures. Officially introduced by the Leave No Trace non-profit organization in 1994, the seven principles are meant to guide visitors through their journey from start to finish, but leave no trail behind them.
Planning ahead and preparing is a key principle that sets a foundation for the rest of a journey in the wild. Along the way, disposing of waste properly, minimizing campfire impacts, respecting wildlife and not taking any tempting souvenirs are all ideas to keep in mind.
Today, LNT advocacy groups such as the Adirondack Council and the Adirondack Mountain Club, work to promote the ideologies associated with Leave No Trace.
The Adirondack Council, founded in 1975, works to educate the public and policymakers, sponsor and publish research, as well as monitor compliance, proposals, legislation and policies impacting the Adirondack Park.
The Adirondack Mountain Club is a member, donor and volunteer-supported organization, with 27 chapters reaching across New York offering educational workshops, naturalist programs and the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program.
“No matter who we are, when we go into the outdoors we can all have an impact out there,” said Ben Brosseau, director of communications at the Mountain Club.
John Sheehan, director of communications at the Adirondack Council said a collaboration between the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Adirondack Council and Stewart’s Shops called the “Love Your Adirondacks” campaign, has been well received by the public as it goes into its third year. Since its start, the goal has been to teach visitors about Leave No Trace, make people aware of where they can get information to familiarize themselves with the seven principles, and show them why these principles hold so much importance.
Sheehan emphasized that these ideals became especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic because so many people took to the woods. More specifically, since the Adirondacks are within a half of a day’s drive for some 80 million people, the region became a preferred choice for those seeking solitude in the midst of a global pandemic, without having to travel far.
But even before COVID-19, Adirondack trails saw a dramatic rise in foot traffic, with visitors increasing about 20% from 2010 to 2020, according to Sheehan. The traffic was quickly damaging popular Adirondack trails, and New York struggled to keep up with the necessary maintenance and construction.
“The state started to build some new trail, but they’re making progress in feet and inches, when there are hundreds of miles that need to be covered,” Sheehan said.
One way or another, the actions of explorers are reflected in the environment.
For example, Brosseau explained that the Adirondack alpine zone in the High Peaks region has seen new life after rebounding from its severely damaged state in the 1980s. Before increased awareness of LNT, hikers were unwittingly damaging this fragile plant community. While it may have looked like just a grassy lawn to walk through, in reality, foot-traffic was harming alpine vegetation. In response, the Summit Stewardship Program was created in 1989 to educate the public, maintain trails above treeline and perform scientific research about the vegetation. Since then, the alpine zone has seen recovery and regrowth by emphasizing the importance of sticking to bedrock surfaces on a hike, one of the LNT principles.
With the passage of the $4.2 billion New York Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act on Nov. 8, 2022, the Adirondack Park hopes to receive further assistance to preserve its natural beauty.
The bond act will provide funding for several priorities in the Adirondack region, such as clean drinking water and wastewater treatment systems in municipalities; clear air monitoring and emissions clean-up; flood damage prevention; and open space preservation.
But the work doesn’t stop there; the Adirondack Council is looking to the future with VISION 2050, a project that maps a path to preserve natural communities, foster vibrant human communities and manage the park over the next 30 years. More information about VISION 2050 can be found at https://www.adirondackcouncil.org/.
In order to achieve these goals, explorers must continue to leave no trace of their visit in the wild.
For those who are new to exploring the Adirondacks or the outdoors in general, Brosseau hopes that the more experienced adventurers will show them the way, so they can leave it better than they found it.
“We also hope that when people see others creating recreational impacts, whether that be they drop a piece of trash or they’re chopping down a tree, to not assume that they’re doing so intentionally. Look at this as an educational opportunity, to approach them and let them know ‘Hey, there’s this whole set of guidelines you can follow to help make this place better for others,’” Brosseau said.
LNT education, through formal programs and informal interactions, preserves the integrity of our natural places while allowing us to enjoy our travels there.
“We look forward to a day when everybody is thinking of these seven things as they embark on a trip into the Park, whether they are conscious of it or not,” Sheehan said.
“That’s going to take a little more time, a little more education and exposure to the reasons why, and reminders that this special place is worth protecting.”