Practice “Leave No Trace” principles to Preserve the Environment and Experience for All

Leave No Trace

Practice Leave No Trace Principles to Preserve the Environment and Experience for All

New to the Maine outdoors this summer? Don’t forget to pack the seven “Leave No Trace” principles when you go!

Empty trails like this were a little harder to find in this pandemic year.

Empty trails like this were a little harder to find in this pandemic year.

The woods and waters of Maine have seen a monumental increase in outdoor recreation use during the continuing pandemic. This summer and fall promise more of the same with a burgeoning number of new and existing enthusiasts looking to spend some quality time outside enjoying Mother Nature’s bountiful beauty. 

Your environmental impact matters, and so does that of every other hiker, paddler, mountain biker and camper out there. The combined effects are enormous and have land managers struggling to keep up with an unprecedented demand that is stressing the carrying capacity of trails, facilities and trailheads across Maine. 

Leave No Trash

Discarded masks were a signature item of trash along trails this past year.

Trash—such as candy bar wrappers, soda bottles, face masks, tissues, and toilet paper—was just one of the big issues that plagued Maine’s popular outdoor spots last year. Doggy poop bags, random camping, illegal fire pits in fragile places, stripping bark from birch trees, hacking down live trees for firewood, cutting switchbacks, building stacks of rock art, and leaving behind painted rocks were other examples of irresponsible practices that had deleterious physical and visual effects and diminished the experience for everyone.  

It is critically important for everyone who ventures into the Maine woods to know the seven Leave No Trace principles which encourage the responsible, safe, and enjoyable use of our outdoor resources. As far as possible, we should each practice these ethics and, where appropriate, gently educate and inform others on the impacts of their less than desirable choices and what the positive alternatives are. 

The first principle, “Plan Ahead and Prepare,” sets you on the right course for following through with the other six. By maximizing your safety and comfort with good preparation you help to minimize your impact on the environment and others. 

When you “Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces,” you’re sticking to bare rock, dry grass, sand, and established trails and campsites. In designated areas, concentrate use; in pristine areas, disperse use. 

To “Dispose of Wastes Properly,” pack out all the garbage you pack in, plus that of others less considerate.

If there’s a privy – however primitive – along the trail, use it.

Disperse the gray water from dish washing and tooth brushing away from fresh water sources. Human waste needs to be dropped into a properly dug cat hole in the organic layer of the soil. Carry and use a small trowel designed for this purpose; a stick or the heel of your shoe won’t do. Always pack out leftover food and containers, used toilet paper, menstrual products, and used baby wipes. If there’s a privy available, please use it.

The fourth principle is easy: “Leave What You Find.” Just remember the old slogan of the 1970s, “Take only pictures; leave only footprints.” Just imagine if everyone took home a souvenir.  

The best way to “Minimize Campfire Impacts” is to forego a fire and use a camp stove. If you must have a fire, use an established fire ring and keep the blaze small.

Illegal fires and firepits are not only an eyesore, but represent a real potential hazard to the woods.

When collecting firewood, remember the four Ds: dead, down, diameter (small) and distant (100 feet or more from camp). Never leave a campfire unattended, and when you depart, make sure your campfire is stone cold out!

Respect Wildlife” by keeping your distance and never feeding them, not only for your own safety, but also to minimize their dependence on human interaction. Hang your food out of critter reach and keep your pets properly leashed.   

Finally, “Be Considerate of Other Visitors” by limiting noise (loud conversation, radios) and lights (lanterns, headlamps). 

Each one of us acting a good steward will help our officials do their job of protecting our precious natural resources. Being courteous and respectful always will ensure that you’ll be welcomed back to the special outdoors places you know and love.

For more info on the full spectrum of Leave No Trace outdoor ethics, visit   

— Story & Photos: Carey Kish of Mt. Desert Island. Carey is an avid beer drinker, editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide, and author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast.

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