Article By :
Phill Monson - @phillmonson
Earth Day is a great time to think about our impact on Ol’ Mother Earth and what we can do to be better stewards. Call me old fashioned, but I like to think that every day can be Earth Day and as we think about our impact, I have put a lot of thought into what can be done on a daily basis to be better stewards. Over the last few years, I’ve been on wha some have called a crusade against vandalism, litter and other bad behavior in our wild places. While I may not be able to change the minds of those who simply don’t care, I have worked hard to spread the message of Leave It Better, which encourages those who do care and who are responsible to take a proactive approach to help combat this problem.
I spend a lot of time thinking about why this is such an issue—there are arguments about social media being to blame (partly true), Broken Windows Theory (a fascinating subject you should look into) and other ideas, but one that I come back to is that I feel outdoor popularity has outpaced outdoor awareness. I’ve thought about what principles could help this situation and came up with these: Be Prepared, Be Present, Be Respectful and Leave It Better—I’ll break these all down below:
Being prepared is the foundation of a great wilderness experience and lessening impact. Knowing the weather conditions, terrain, places to see, appropriate clothing etc. are crucial to having a positive and safe time. One story comes to mind here –
The Zion Narrows: My father and I usually take an annual trip to The Narrows for an enjoyable day of hiking and photography. We get up early to make sure we get to the trail head by 6:30am (ish). We were about two miles in when we saw a woman walking toward us, very disheveled and looking a little confused. We asked her if she was OK and found that she went up the night before to the campground with only a hammock to sleep in, and nowhere to hang it. Her food rations were dreadfully low from the start and she only went in with one bottle of water. Her clothing consisted of short hiking shorts and a tank top. Needless to say she was freezing cold, hungry and exhausted.
While the desert in summer is VERY hot, the Narrows are generally a cool 60 degrees or below with walking waist deep in the cold Virgin River and much cooler at night. This is a great example of not being prepared.
Not only is being prepared essential to enjoying your time in the wild, it can also mean saving your life.
This may come as a shock, but all of life does not need to be posted on social media. There’s been a popular saying I’ve seen float around with the likes of “You won’t find wifi here, but you’ll have a better connection.” I recently read a news story about 1-star reviews on the National Parks that were almost comical—things like “Couldn’t find latte to save my life,” or “Not one McDonalds anywhere close.” That’s kind of the point, folks. John Muir said it well
“I don't like either the word [hike] or the thing.
People ought to saunter in the mountains - not 'hike!' ... Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, 'A la sainte terre', 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them.”
There’s much more to it than getting a quick photo and I can promise you your appreciation for the wild will increase if you give it your full attention.
If you grew up in the 80s, like me, you might remember Woodsy Owl. He was a great tool that was geared to teach children the importance of not polluting with his catchy tag line of “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute.” These days you don’t see much, if any, of our old friend Woodsy. While not littering and cleaning up after yourself seems like common knowledge, National Parks and other Public Lands have found increased litter and trash in the parks, trails and campgrounds to the point they don’t have the resources to combat the growing problem. Great effort has been put in by the Leave No Trace organization and reminders of “pack it in, pack it out” are normally at trailheads and campground posts. Still, the problem persists. I’ve also shared through social media the many, many stories of vandalism taking place in the National Parks; from carving names in well-known locations, knocking over natural formations, blatant destruction, using acrylic ink to write a name or IG handle and the list goes on and on. Woodsy Owl is needed more than ever it seems.
If you go out to these places, be respectful of the land—practice the principles of leave no trace.
Leave It Better Than You Found It
“To leave the world better than you found it, sometimes you have to pick up other people’s trash.” – Bill Nye. This is something that was taught to me as a young scout. Our scout leader would make us stop and clean up a site that was used the night before. There was some trash left over and we were instructed to pick it up and put it in our own bags to carry out. That lesson has stuck with me all these years later. Sadly, the idea of leave no trace hasn’t been grasped by all, and it isn’t enough as these problems continue. It is up to those who are responsible to do some of the heavy lifting and clean up after others and in some cases help with restoration efforts to trails, campsites and other damaged areas.
Leaving it better calls for a proactive approach to ensure that these places are preserved for generations to come. While I could go on about the subject, I hope that the simple phrase of Leave It Better Than You Found It Is self-explanatory.
By doing these things each time you go out, my hope is that Earth Day will be front and center and help guide and new era in outdoor awareness!
Photography By :
Phil Monson - @phillmonson