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Our Great, Big, Beautiful State

How You Can Help Protect the Natural Places We All Love and Enjoy

Article by Lisa Schreiner

Photography by Yuriy Manchik

Originally published in Bellevue Lifestyle

When you think of Washington State, a variety of words may come to mind: rain, tech, hipster, coffee—and last but not least, the great outdoors. The Evergreen State offers a wide variety of outdoor adventures to choose from, all year long. Whether it's backpacking, kayaking, sailing, surfing, rock climbing, hiking, skiing, mountain biking; if it's an outdoor activity, you can probably find it here.

Not only does this beautiful state offer a plethora of options for outdoor fun, it is also most likely only a few hours away by car, if even that long. 

Washington is overflowing with incredible scenery. Most of the state is a majestic sight to behold. On the west side of the state, you will find the Olympic peninsula, home to the Hoh Rainforest, the only rainforest in the lower 48 states, as well as several lakes and beaches. To the north, you will find the North Cascades National Park and Mount Baker with plenty of hiking, kayaking and skiing options. The San Juan Islands are also located in the northern part of Washington and is a popular summer destination for kayakers, boaters and campers.  

As you head east, you enter wine country, as well as a gorgeous drive across the pass with plenty of lookout points, lakes and whitewater rafting opportunities. As you head south, you will find Mount Rainier, one of the most iconic climbs for hikers around the world. And a little farther southeast, you will run into the Columbia Gorge, where you can listen to world-renowned performers while taking in the natural aesthetics of the Gorge.

The list of possible outdoor adventures is without end. For those of us in the Seattle-Bellevue area, we can hike, ski or kayak without having to travel more than about an hour by car. And we are doing just that—taking advantage of all the outdoors has to offer—in record numbers. 

According to The Seattle Times, the number of Seattle-area hikers has more than doubled since 2008. People are flocking to the trails, placing Seattle in the top three of the 75 major metropolitan areas nationwide for hiking. The population growth of the area plays a large role in this increase as well as social media. Our Instagram and Facebook feeds are filled with stories and photos shared by friends, family members and neighbors enjoying the beauty of the outdoors. It leaves us wanting to experience it ourselves and undoubtedly, share it on social media.

With such a tremendous increase of hikers and outdoor enthusiasts in general, mindfulness of the nature we all enjoy is paramount. A little responsibility goes a long way.

The Washington Trails Association offers valuable information and resources about the trails in our state. The WTA suggests practicing these seven guidelines to reduce our impact and help protect the natural places we all love and enjoy.

1. Plan ahead and prepare. Know the rules and concerns for where you are visiting. Prepare for emergencies and extreme weather. Repackage food to minimize waste. Familiarize yourself with the area. Bring a compass or a map. Make sure to hydrate.

2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, dry grasses and gravel. In popular areas, concentrate use on existing trails and sites. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.

3. Dispose of waste properly. Pack it in, pack it out. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter. 

4. Leave what you find. Preserve the past: examine but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts. Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.

5. Minimize campfire impact. Where fires are permitted, keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand. 

6. Respect wildlife. Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them. Never feed animals. Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.

7. Be considerate of other visitors. Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience. Be courteous. Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

We are lucky to live in such a great, big, beautiful state. Each season of the year provides endless opportunities for residents and visitors alike to enjoy the outdoors. Making the extra effort to preserve the natural beauty of Washington's outdoors will ensure that many generations to come can enjoy it as well. 

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