Magazine article Parks & Recreation

From Dog Waste to Daisy Pickers: "Leave No Trace" Educates Outdoor Recreators

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

From Dog Waste to Daisy Pickers: "Leave No Trace" Educates Outdoor Recreators

Article excerpt

Americans are rediscovering the great outdoors. A 1997 national survey indicated that more than 94 percent of American citizens enjoy some form of outdoor recreation. Recreational pursuits invigorate and rejuvenate us while giving us pause for introspection and self-improvement. Accompanying that same experience, however, is the potential for significant damage to America's wildlands. Polluted waters, eroded trails, scarred trees, harassed wildlife, and damaged cultural resources will be our legacy if we fail to recognize the individual and cumulative impacts of our enjoyment of public lands.

Leave No Trace (LNT) is a national program dedicated to supporting outdoor recreation while educating users to minimize their impact on the natural world. LNT's goal is to teach all types of recreationists basic outdoor skills and ethics that will help America's wildlands remain healthy for years to come.


The Leave No Trace program originated in the United States Forest Service (USFS) in the 1970s. As the USFS witnessed a boom in backpacking and associated impacts to popular campsites and trails, an educational message was developed to address those management concerns to help visitors make better decisions when recreating.

As the Leave No Trace program grew, the USFS enlisted the help of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), an industry leader in outdoor leadership and wilderness travel. NOLS and the USFS then joined other federal land agencies--the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service--to create regionally specific Leave No Trace information. Believing that the LNT program applied to any environment, the originators developed curriculum for the majority of the land classifications in North America--from rainforests to deserts, mountains to rivers, caves to coasts. Different types of users, such as rock climbers, sea kayakers, spelunkers, and equestrians, were targeted.

Since 1994, Leave No Trace, Inc., a non-profit organization, has managed the LNT program. With a mission to promote and inspire responsible outdoor recreation through education, research, and partnerships, Leave No Trace, Inc. joins forces with a variety of organizations and agencies to promote a "minimum impact" message to every visitor of America's wildlands. From municipalities to national education groups, outdoor product manufacturers to regional land managers, Leave No Trace, Inc. works with diverse groups to promote a responsible recreation message. Ultimately, the strength of the LNT program lies in the ability to partner with multiple groups to develop and offer information for specific areas and user groups.

Why Focus on Frontcountry Areas?

The roots of the LNT program are found among wilderness trails and in backcountry campsites, but with more than 80 percent of recreation occurring in day-use areas, the LNT message has gained broader appeal in heavily used "frontcountry" recreation sites. To address the growing trend toward day-use recreation, Leave No Trace, Inc. has developed a Frontcountry Program that works with land managers to address management concerns for wildlands near urban areas. The Frontcountry Program was pilot tested in 1999 in Boulder, Colorado. Their "Leave No Trace on Open Space" program serves as the model for future Frontcountry Program educational efforts.

THE CITY OF BOULDER OPEN SPACE, A Case Study in Leave No Trace Education


To help develop an effective local LNT program, a site profile for the City of Boulder Open Space Department (CBOS) was developed. Based on local surveys, the following information comprised the baseline information for the educational program:

   CBOS manages 30, 000 acres of land and 80 miles of trail in and around the
   city of Boulder. CBOS' management mandate is to protect wildlife habitat,
   scenic vistas, recreational opportunities, and agricultural practices. … 
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