Friday, March 30, 2012

Leave No Trace

I get to be a troop guide for Wood Badge again this year and I've been reviewing my presentations from last year. One that I needed to modify a bit was the presentation on Leave No Trace.

One thing I worry about with this presentation is that it can be a pretty sensitive topic in my neck of the woods. Last year went well, but when I went as a participant it was a little more heated. One of my patrol members, like a lot of locals I know, was pretty set against Leave No Trace.

The perception is of big, bad government agencies telling people what they can't do on public land. I once heard of one person who reportedly once stormed out of a Scout meeting yelling something about "nobody is going to tell me what to do on my land."

My patrol mate went off on how he can't even take horses into the back-country anymore because they make him use weed-free hay, and it's too expensive, and their just trying to keep everyone out, and he should be able to do what he wants, etc., etc.

I can understand the resistance against big government and some bureaucrat in Washington dictating your life. But that's not what Leave No Trace is about. At least, I don't think so.

It's also nothing new.

This comes from Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell:
"Remember the only two things you leave behind you on breaking up camp: 1. Nothing. 2. Your thanks to the owner of the ground."
I also remember an illustration in my old Boy Scout handbook (it's also in my dad's even older one) that showed a sort of "before and after" set of pictures. The before was pristine and clean, the after was trashed. The caption on the illustration said something like "Let no one say, and say it to your shame, that all was beauty here until you came."

Although our understanding of what we now call Leave No Trace has changed since Baden-Powell's day, the Boy Scouts have always promoted responsible use of the land.

In my mind, Leave No Trace, is simply about the choices that I make when I am out with my boys. As someone who enjoys the outdoors, I don't want to mess it up for anyone else. That's it. I sum it all up in the phrase "A Scout is Courteous."

I just don't understand how people can have such a problem with that.


  1. I was one that started out against Leave No Trace. And I only have one grip against it still - fires. I like them big and hot. Camping without a fire or low impact fire is LAME. I like coming home wearing Scout cologne ~ smoke.

    But the philosophy is sound. With even more limited space to camp and hike, we must take care of the land we have. I want it there for my kids and future Scouts.

    1. I think this is why the "plan ahead and prepare" step is so important. If you want a big fire, you need to plan for it. Go camping in a location with an existing fire ring and bring plenty of wood. If your camp site doesn't have a fire ring you can bring a portable fire pit (we used to use half of a 55 gal drum with legs welded on to it). Admittedly, backpacking into remote areas doesn't lend itself well to a large fire, but Leave No Trace doesn't automatically eliminate a big camp fire, it just means you have to plan for it.

  2. I agree. We only use existing rings. Boys don't like lantern fires.

  3. It's unfortunate that so many bring their political baggage to what is supposed to be an apolitical educational system.

    I also find it ironic that Scouting is supposedly supported primarily by those who lean to the culturally conservative, yet so many of those same people get such heartburn the idea of conservation and good stewardship of the land. They may claim a scriptural basis for mankind's dominion over the earth and its creatures, but disregard the inherent responsibility of that dominion. It kind of boggles my mind.

    That said, I don't relish the idea of packing out poop.

  4. Ah, Utah culture.

    On a related note, our pack has decided to work on the World Conservation Award. Do you have any thoughts on a "pack conservation project" - something that would be in the spirit of the award and an appropriate level for Cub Scouts?