Recreate Responsibly As You Travel

Are you familiar with the phrase “recreate responsibly”? I will admit that even after years of camping and backpacking I had not heard this specific term until recently. I was always taught to leave no trace, but this new phrase is gaining momentum in the most positive way. And we’re here for it. Let’s take a few minutes to step into the idea of responsible travel and talk about why it’s so important.

Overlook of Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains with an American flag

Why Do We Need to Recreate Responsibly?

I realized yesterday when the calendar moved to a new month that I am behind in my planning. Anybody else? March is a great time to begin research and plan details for a summer vacation. We try to do a two week family adventure during the months when the kids have less responsibilities. Domestic U.S. destinations are becoming more and more sought out, especially in locations that are more remote and provide lots of outdoor space. Some families are getting out into the wild for the first time with their kids, and there is actually a lot to learn. Sales on RV’s and campers are at an all-time high, which puts campgrounds in high demand. These demands can take a toll on our public lands if we don’t know how to recreate responsibly. So, I started to look into it more as I began my plans. It is our duty to travel responsibly.

What Are Public Lands?

In the broadest sense, public lands are areas of land that are open to the public and managed by the government. You can think of it as land you own (and share with everyone else in the United States). There are three types of government that manage public lands: federal, state and local. Examples include National Parks, National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, National Historic Sites, Wild and Scenic Rivers, state parks and more. Recreation opportunities depend on the managing agency, and run the gamut from the less restrictive, undeveloped wide open spaces of BLM lands to the highly developed and controlled national and state parks. Some are free to visit and some have fees to help support responsible recreation.

Steps to Recreate Responsibly

Family hiking with dog in a Wildlife Management Area

1.Protect Your Family & Other Visitors

With visitation demand on the rise, it’s imperative to make reservations and plans WAY ahead of time. Know where and when you are going ahead of time. One of the best ways to recreate responsibly is to have a plan so you can do your best to work against the crowd. That may also mean choosing a less popular destination during peak seasons. For example, Rocky Mountain National Park in early June is easier to recreate responsibly in early June as opposed to the Independence Day holiday weekend in July.

Another idea is to visit these various public lands early in the morning or starting at dinner time when other visitors are still sleeping or have called it quits for the day. These ideas protect your family and other visitors because they allow for social distancing. They also ensure that trails and education centers are not overrun and are maintained in excellent condition.

2.Protect Park Employees

Do your research before you enter public lands. Know the entrances and exits and make sure you have a map. Be aware of road closures and weather conditions before you enter these destinations. Park employees are there to help, but we need to be responsible in how we utilize them. When you have a good idea of where you are going, you will have less need for contact with park employees and can free them up to be ambassadors and protectors of the land and its visitors. As educators these park employees have a deep desire to inform and teach, but we need to utilize them respectfully.

Know your limits and double check the gear you will need to explore. It is your responsibility as a visitor to take care of yourself and the land, not a park employee’s responsibility. Refrain from relying too heavily on employees to get you out of a situation you should have been prepared for yourself.

3.Protect The Land

Lake view in a state park

The very nature of public land is land that has been set apart due to it special and unique features for all to enjoy. Many of these parks and refuges and monuments offer irreplaceable resources and historical markers. If you don’t recreate responsibly these locations can be put in real danger. Do not get caught up in the idea that your bending the rules won’t affect anything. Multiply your mindset by every visitor that comes through and BOOM soil erosion on trails, frail ecosystems, and wildlife habitats are in danger.

I found my mothering lashing out every time I saw someone hop off a boardwalk at Yellowstone National Park. Y’all. The boardwalks are not a suggestion. They are there for a reason-for your safety and to protect the land. My kids used to get so upset with me for telling them to put the rock back where they found it. After all, isn’t that what outdoor exploring is all about? Sorry guys, the lands are for you to enjoy, but that does not for you to do what you want with it. This brings up a difficult line to walk, both proverbially and and literally.

Yes, public lands are there for visitors to enjoy, learn, and explore. Yes, they are also there to be preserved and set apart so that generations to come can enjoy the same as you.

Leave No Trace Principle

If you are not familiar with the Leave No Trace mantra, here it is for you educate yourself:

  • Plan Ahead & Prepare- no excuses here. If you choose to recreate, do the research and double check your gear.
  • Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces. Use marked trails, consider your surroundings, avoid camping close to water, replace anything moved while camping.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly. “Pack it in, pack it out” and leave the lands as you found them. This also includes proper disposal of human waste.
  • Leave What You Find. It is illegal to remove natural objects. The best campsites are found, not made.
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts. Use a camp stove and build fires sparingly and only in optimal conditions and inside an existing fire ring if possible. Extinguish COMPLETELY.
  • Respect Wildlife. Quiet observation from a distance is expected. Do NOT feed animals.
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors. Maintain courtesy so everyone can enjoy. Refrain from loud behavior. Announce to others that you are passing on your mountain bike or on a trail while hiking or running.

Adventure & Travel Responsbily

Teenage boy fishing in an Ohio state park

None of this should stop you from planning your next adventure! With this information you and your family will be able to recreate responsibly as you explore. We hope to do so as well, and now that we have solid helpful information we can be better prepared. The U.S. has incredible public lands to offer. As you head out this summer to build up your family memory bank protect yourself and protect our beautiful lands. If you recreate responsibly, you will allow for future generations to enjoy them as well.

You and your family will have the time of your life adventuring on our public lands. Afterwards, you could can pass on your education to others so we can all keep this responsible travel movement going forward.

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