Low Impact Info!
As more and more people head into the backcountry on our hiking trails, there is an ever increasing risk of overuse of the backcountry. It’s easy to destroy a fragile spot, but it’s just as easy to tread lightly and keep from messing up the things that we came out to see in the first place. All it takes is a little common sense. If we all do our part, the unspoiled natural areas here in Arkansas, as well as around the country, will stay wild and wonderful so that generations to follow will be able to enjoy the raw scenic beauty that we do. Here are a few guidelines to follow as you Tread Lightly in the backcountry:
Stay on trails. Our trail systems were designed to carry you from one point to another in the most efficient (and/or scenic) way. When folks cut switchbacks, erosion begins, and soon the trail is messed up and there is an ugly scar. It is not rude to ask someone that you see doing this to kindly get back on the trail.
Hike in small groups. It’s fun to go out with a large gang, but that doesn’t always work too well in the backcountry – it destroys the character and solitude of the place. Not to mention increasing the possibility of damage to the trail and surrounding areas. Always limit the size of your group to ten or less when you’re going to be camping. Fewer is generally better. Besides, you’ll have more campsite selection if you only have one or two tents to set up! Have your parties at home; come to the woods to enjoy nature, not Billboard’s Top-ten. Speaking of noise, be considerate of others – they just might be out on the trail to get away from all the hustle and bustle of city life. Enjoy the peaceful solitude, and let others do the same.
Camp in established sites when possible. Overnight stays have more impact on the land than probably anything else we do while hiking. If everyone camped in a new location every night, the damage would be much more widespread. By concentrating this damage to several sites, the area will stay more primitive. If you must set up in a new spot, choose a site at least 100 feet away from any trail and water source, and preferably out of sight (and please, please don’t build a new fire ring). Don’t you just hate to hike down a nice trail and see tents scattered along the way? Many of the good campsites along our trails are closer to the trail and/or water than 100 feet, but try to get further away if you can.
Protect our water. Clean water adds so much to the outdoor experience, not to mention our quality of life in general. Here is a simple guideline to remember when in the backcountry – don’t put anything into the water. Period! I know, I know, you use biodegradable soap. What if the guy just upstream is using it too, and takes a bath in the creek that you’re getting your kool-aid water out of? You’ll have suds in your punch! Oh yea, it will be biodegradable punch, but suds just the same. Yuk! Think about downstream – we all live there. Use biodegradable soap if you have to, but use it away from the stream. Or better yet, don’t use soap at all.
Keep bathroom duties out of sight. This seems rather obvious, but not everyone seems to understand. You need to get completely out of sight of the trail and any water supply to do your business. Dig a small hole, fill it in and cover it up when you’re done. Why do people still leave their mess next to the trail?
Cook with a stove. Do all of your cooking with one of the lightweight stoves available – they’re quicker and a whole lot cleaner anyway. Campfires are OK, but keep them small. DON’T build a fire ring. They scar the rocks, and really aren’t effective in controlling the fire anyway. Use dead branches that are on the ground and that you can break with you hands – if you have to cut it with a saw, it’s too darn big! (Large wood seldom ever burns up completely, and what you have left over is an ugly black stick that someone else is going to have to look at.)
Leave No Trace! This should be your goal on any trip, on any trail, no matter where it is – when you leave there should be no sign of your ever having been there. Pack It In, Pack It Out – don’t litter! Don’t carve up trees. Don’t cut or destroy any living thing. Leave it as you found it. In fact, leave it cleaner than you found it – carry a trash bag for not only your own stuff, but for other litter that you see along the way too.
If we all practice these simple things while on our trails, we will be able to go back there again and again, and bring our children and grandchildren, and be able to experience the unspoiled beauty that our backcountry areas provide us. Imagine the place in a hundred years. Two hundred. A thousand years. It is our responsibility to see to it that those multitude of hikers yet unborn will be able to experience these special places as we have done. Thank you for caring!