John Darling"> Leave only footprints - Lifestyle* - - Medford, OR
  • Leave only footprints

    We can enjoy the outdoors without wearing it out
  • When people head into the Oregon outback looking for pristine natural beauty, they are often surprised at how much evidence remains from previous visitors.
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    • Camping tips
      Take any new camping gear out of its package before going to the mountains.
      • Repackage your food in smaller, resealable, plastic bags to prevent waste and more garbage.
      • When you...
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      Camping tips
      Take any new camping gear out of its package before going to the mountains.

      • Repackage your food in smaller, resealable, plastic bags to prevent waste and more garbage.
      • When you can, choose a location that others can't see very well.
      • Know in advance where campsites can be found on the trail. Consult a guidebook or other experts.
      • Respect areas that are off-limits to camping. They may be closed because of vegetation rehabilitation.
      • Camp in established spots so you won't beat down vegetation in other areas.
      • Camp 200 feet away from a water source.
      • Use biodegradable soap sparingly and never in streams or lakes. Do your washing at least 200 feet from all freshwater supplies. Better yet, use alternatives to soap, such as unscented baby wipes. You can avoid dish soap and just wash your dishes in hot water for a few days out on the trail.
      • If your wastewater contains food particles, filter them out in a kitchen strainer and put the residue in the trash.
      • Broadcast the remaining water in an area away from any campsites.


      • In campgrounds and other recreation sites, build fires only in fire rings or grills. In undeveloped areas where fires are permitted, use an existing fire ring if possible. If you have to build one, dismantle it when you are done.
      • Build your fire on a fire blanket or in a fire pan if there isn't a fire ring.
      • Use dead wood lying on the ground. Don't cut live trees or break off limbs from standing trees, even if they're dead.
      • Collect firewood far away from your site to leave the site looking as natural as possible.
      • Use small wood. Thick pieces rarely burn through and are left behind. Move embers to the fire's center to burn them completely.
      • Burn pieces of trash only if they can be fully consumed by fire and turned to ash. Do not attempt to burn plastic, cans or foil.
      • Make certain your fire is dead-out. Drown it with water, stir and drown again. You should be able to put your hand in the ashes.
      • Pack out any trash found in your firepit. Take any of the charcoal pieces left inside your ring and carry them away from your site. Crush the chunks, then scatter the remnants and dust throughout a broad area. Bring a trash pack for recyclables.

      Nature's call

      • Use established outhouses when available.
      • If no toilets are available, dig a hole at least 6 inches deep and at least 200 feet away from all water sources, campsites and trails. Cut a divot out of the soil. When you are finished, put the divot back in place. Do not dig a group latrine.
      • Burning toilet paper, when done carelessly, can result in wildfires and is not recommended. In popular areas, toilet paper should be packed out in doubled plastic bags with lockable closures.
      • Car campers using undeveloped campsites should use a port-a-potty and dispose its contents in an RV dump. River-runners should pack out human waste.
      • Carry out all plastic or cotton feminine-hygiene products. Do not bury them.
  • When people head into the Oregon outback looking for pristine natural beauty, they are often surprised at how much evidence remains from previous visitors.
    "I spend a lot of time in the outback, and it's always frustrating to see the amount of trash in the woods and the illegal trails that people have made," says Steve Kominsky of Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.
    Kominsky, a broker and Medford resident, spent much of this summer promoting the Leave No Trace ethic. He embarked on a "10-in-6" feat, attempting to climb Oregon's 10 highest peaks in six days. Unusually heavy snows kept him from reaching all the peaks, but it didn't stop him from talking to groups along the way about the importance of leaving the back country the way you find it.
    "It's good for the backcountry and the environment, and it doesn't take a lot of money," says Kominsky. "You basically stay on the trails, and you pick up your trash. It's respecting what we have."
    The do's and don'ts of leaving no trace — which can be found online at — fall into seven basic categories: Plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, respect wildlife, be considerate of other visitors and minimize campfire impacts.
    Issue No. 1 is always going to be fire, he says.
    "A little fire can become a big fire very fast," says Jim Moore, an executive committee member of the Rogue Sierra Club. "Leave no trace (LNT) is important because we're the dominant species, and we need to do all we can to preserve other species. If you were the only person in the woods, it might not matter, but we're overusing the wild and need to lessen all possible impacts."
    A roaring fire may be romantic, but LNT encourages use of a lightweight cooking stove and a candle lantern for light. If you're in an area where fires are permitted, use established fire rings and don't make new ones. Keep fires small and use sticks from the ground that you can snap by hand.
    A tiny, backpack-sized, butane stove in lightweight tin is always going to be preferable to starting a fire — and Scott Keith of Northwest Outdoor Store in Medford stocks half a dozen brands. His favorite, the Pocket Rocket, weighs only a couple ounces and goes for $39.
    Another big impact is human waste. It's hard to think about packing it around, but in fragile zones, like the Wild and Scenic Rogue, you have to — and there are recloseable, industrial zip-type bags with enzymes that begin breaking it down, says Keith.
    In the outback, do it at least 200 feet from any water sources and dig a "cat hole" 6 or 8 inches deep for solid waste. You'll need to carry a small trowel to do this. As for used toilet paper and sanitary products, pack those out.
    Washing of dishes and bodies should also be done at least 200 feet from water sources and with biodegradable soap; strain dishwater and scatter.
    For the rest of the waste, the old saying goes: Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures.
    Pack out trash; don't burn it. Don't move rocks around, build trenches or make furniture. Don't bring in nonnative species or remove plants. Don't disturb historical features. Don't follow or approach any animals — and definitely don't feed them, as it harms their health and natural behavior, makes them dependent on people and exposes them to predators. Secure your food where animals can't get it.
    Dogs love being in the wild, but no one else loves it. They can chase animals and leave scat around, and that's not part of the natural environment. Learn the vulnerable times of animals — mating, nesting, raising young and wintering — and avoid them.
    As for other humans, respect the fact that they probably came to the outback for silence, so don't hoot and leap around, disturbing their communing with nature. Be courteous and yield to others on the trail. When encountering pack animals, step off trail to the uphill side, so heavy animals don't go off the downhill side and erode it.
    Camp on durable surfaces. That means rock, gravel, grasses, campsites and snow. Stay 200 feet from riparian zones. Hike trails down the middle, even if muddy.
    As part of planning ahead, avoid high-use times. Go during the week, not weekends, whenever possible. Repackage food to make it small. Use a map, compass and Global Positioning System instead of marking with cairns or paint. Avoid expected bad weather.
    A lot of people love the outback, says Keith, "but we can love it to death, it's so beautiful."
    John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at
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