7 Ways to Tread Lightly in the Woods


By Hannah Brooks, SCA Massachusetts AmeriCorps Member

You’ve probably heard of Leave No Trace (LNT). But can you break it down into the seven core principles? Or teach its significance? How about incorporate it into your daily life?

Upon entering Hawley, I was in that same boat. A few weeks ago I would have said LNT is cleaning up after yourself when you go hiking in the woods. 

Although this is partially accurate, LNT has more of an impact than we realize. The underlying concept is applicable in a more general way than we often realize. It also reaches far beyond environmental experiences.  It’s critical that we practice having the least amount of human impact on the earth as possible. That way we can enjoy it now, and leave it in better health for future generations.

Principle 1: Plan Ahead and Prepare

I admit there are times I haven’t done this. My Hawley experience has taught me to “hydrate or die-drate.” That means we drink plenty water, especially during outings. Without proper planning, dehydration could be on the horizon. 

You’ll also want to be aware of the regulations of the place you plan to visit. Knowing the policies ahead of time can help you prepare for what is to come. This will also help you pack the necessary items based on each location.

Principle 2: Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Trek where people have gone before to avoid accidentally creating destructive new trails. During my hikes in North Carolina, I used to call these new trails “shortcut trails” before I knew about LNT. Now I understand how important and necessary it is to avoid them and remain on the original route. 

Additionally, keep your campsite small. Visitors after you might see that there was an obvious campsite spot and reuse it. Over time, the vegetation will start to become eradicated through human impact.

Principle 3: Disposing of Waste Properly

I have noticed human carelessness time and again with regard to this principle. Cigarette butts, for example, litter popular trails in North Carolina. This might discourage visitors who want to admire the natural scenery. 

Before our training, I never though about disposal of human waste, and wasn’t as educated about it. Luckily, our orientation prepared me to reduce my impact when conservation season arrives.

Principle 4: Leave What You Find

It can be tempting to take a rock or other keepsake during an outdoor journey. But if everyone had that mindset, a unique and pristine environment could soon be barren and unappealing. In my opinion, practicing this concept is extremely significant. 

Leaving the places we visit in their original state encourages the enjoyment of those places for hundreds of years. Engaging in a task such as taking a “souvenir” has more of a detrimental consequence than most people realize.

Principle 5:  Minimize Campfire Impacts 

Out-of-control campfires can result in large environmental consequences. They not only endanger wild animals, but the lives of firefighters and other personnel.

Principle 6: Respect Wildlife

Although this is straight to the point, this principle is often overlooked. Awe for these animals can lead people to feed or follow them, which changes their behavior and puts their health at risk. 

Additionally, keeping pets leashed and properly securing your food are crucial. I have unfortunately seen many people wondrously traveling with dogs unleashed, which is unsafe to other individuals and especially wildlife. Simply watching wildlife at a safe distance and being responsible presents a huge favor to the lives of animals.

Principle 7: Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Honestly, I would’ve never guessed LNT would include this concept. I always thought that being respectful of the environment was enough. But most of the time the environment includes other visitors wanting a similar experience. Doing something as simple as wearing earth-toned clothing and being quiet/courteous can elevate the natural experience that visitors want, and I realize how important this is as I would want the same occurrence for myself. 

I don’t believe anyone goes out in nature to hear/see anything but the sounds and visual beauty it entails, so this is a remembrance we must hang onto.

This plethora of environmental knowledge can really make a difference in our world, and through educating others we can truly make a difference. Implementing these strategies in our outdoor excursions will deem beneficial for centuries, so the best time to begin practicing these principles is now. I am excited to continue to follow these LNT guidelines during my time here at Hawley, especially during conservation season when I will be outside more often than not. I am beyond fortunate to be part of a greater experience of distributing the importance of environmental education to peers now and throughout my lifetime.

Want to serve public lands in Massachusetts? Learn more about SCA’s Massachusetts AmeriCorps program.