By Sierra Club BC Environmental Educator Amira Maddison
This article appeared in the Island Parent Family Summer Guide 2019.
Tourism BC describes Vancouver Island as “old-growth forests, snowcapped mountains, and untamed shorelines which create one of the planet’s most diverse ecosystems.” With another sunny weekend approaching, how do we do justice to these beautiful days in the areas we love; walking, hiking, cycling, and camping? How can we best protect those beloved natural habitats?
Leave no trace. What does the three-word slogan really mean? Simply put, it is the best practice to follow to enjoy and protect our natural spaces. It’s a lot more than just packing out your garbage.
As a kid, leave no trace was a hard ethic to follow. I would plead with my parents to collect small treasures from beaches and trails. After all, how much of an impact could a handful of shells have? If we multiply my impact by a thousand times each weekend, then we have created a serious problem. Just one small example: seashells, believe it or not, play an important role in ecosystems. They are shelter for algae, building materials for bird nests and armour for hermit crabs.
Here are some “leave no trace” principles and tips for you and the kids:
Plan Ahead and Prepare
As a child, you don’t often get much say in planning an outing. Encourage your young one to help with preparations. Check the weather forecast, pack appropriate clothing, visit the park website to find maps, regulations, and identify hazards at beaches and campgrounds. You might be surprised to learn that simple actions can have a lasting impact in an area and what steps you can take to mitigate it.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Stick to trails and established camp sites. Your youngster’s little feet can still have a big impact on the surrounding habitat. Help them be conscious of their foot-stepping, and turn this into a game by seeing if they can leave no evidence of footprints.
Dispose of Waste Properly
This is also known as the ‘pack it in, pack it out’ motto. Reduce how much disposable garbage you bring into nature by removing the packaging before you go. Play a game of “I Spy” on the beach and see who can collect the most litter. Pack an extra bag to pack it out with you.
Leave What You Find
And we’re back to the seashells. Try giving your child a camera to document their favourite treasures during your time outside. Create a nature journal or slideshow with your pictures to preserve your memories together. Let “take only memories (and nowadays photographs), and leave only footprints” be your mantra.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Vancouver Island has many restrictions on campfires, especially in periods of drought like we’re experiencing this year. Know the regulations in your area before you head out, and use a designated campfire ring where available. You can create a “leave no trace” fire by keeping them small and by always fully extinguishing it before bed and before leaving the area. Get your kids to help dump water on the fire – in a safe manner!
Animal encounters can be exciting and a great learning opportunity for kids. Know before you go which animals you’re likely to encounter and any safety concerns. Observe from a distance and never approach or feed wildlife. Get your youngster to help store food in a safe place such as a bear hang or in provided bear bins.
Be Considerate of Others
We share these outdoor spaces with each other. Remind your little one to be courteous to other users, and let the sound of nature prevail.
Try taking your kids to volunteer with a local park, nature conservancy, or non-profit that’s working to protect your local area. Pull scotch broom, tag hummingbirds, or do a nighttime bat count. The possibilities are endless!
Practice leave no trace ethics with your little ones – our natural world depends upon their respect.
Feature image by Jens Wieting.