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Tread Lightly

Be a Good Steward of the Land As You Go About Your Summer Adventures

Article by Sarah Howlett

Photography by Poppy & Co. by Kelsey Huffer

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

Whether you’re a longtime local or coming to Boulder for a mountain vacation, take a moment to review these ways to protect both yourself and our lands with Dana Watts, executive director of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a 28-year-old nonprofit based in Boulder.

Plan ahead
Before heading to a trail or point of interest, consult maps, and know the regulations and restrictions of the land. AllTrails and onX Backcountry are great apps, Dana says, and the latter has wildfire alerts and fire closures features. Check the forecast as well: Is there a risk for lightning strikes or flash floods? And (almost) needless to say, bring plenty of water.

Also important here, she adds, is proper gear and clothing. “Rain or temperature changes are almost aways a possibility, so having layers is the right call,” she says. “And make sure shoes or boots are comfortable, broken in and waterproof if necessary.”

Travel on durable surfaces
Being outdoors is all about soaking up nature while not damaging it. Staying on the trail reduces the likelihood that multiple routes will develop and scar the landscape. Do not shortcut the switchbacks (trail zigzags that climb hillsides). And because even searches for bathroom privacy are considered off-trail excursions, traverse the right surface when possible. Rock, sand and gravel can tolerate repeated trampling. In vegetation, select dry grasses, which tend to be more resistant than, say, a wet meadow or soil. Avoid disturbing puddles, mud holes or potholes, which are home to tiny desert animals. When you stop for a snack, set backpacks on rock, sand or gravel.

Leave what you find
Resist the urge to remove rocks, plants and so forth. Taking a picture or sketching the flower instead of picking it is optimal—but sometimes difficult, Dana acknowledges. “When kids or adults find a special rock or seashell on their outdoor adventure, [just] make the best decision for you and for nature in that moment,” she says. Always try to learn about wildlife through quiet observation so they are not scared or forced to flee.

Be considerate
Outdoor ethics is essential. To this end, keep group sizes small—or break up a large group into smaller groups—and avoid trips on holidays and busy weekends. Enjoy your music through earbuds, and keep volume low enough to hear others approaching. On narrow trails, step aside for uphill foot traffic. Take breaks on durable surfaces, well off the designated trail. Bright clothing and equipment are discouraged. Especially in open, natural areas, colors such as day-glow yellow may contribute to a crowded feeling; consider earth-toned colors to lessen visual impacts.