This is the seventh post in a series where we are really taking a close look at Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics’ seven principles. Throughout this series, we are really diving deep into each Leave No Trace Principle. Today’s blog post discusses Leave No Trace Principle 7 – Be Considerate of Other Visitors.
I was hiking with a small group of women recently, and while we sat to break for lunch a large group of Boy Scouts came marching by. We said hello and spoke pleasantries with them, and they went on. A little later down the trail, the group of teenage boys was finishing up their break. They made room and told us to go on the past to avoid playing leapfrog on the trail. However, they quickly caught up with us and were hot on our heels.
The people in the back of our group felt as if they were going to be run over and I’m sure the boys just wanted by. So we stood to the side, let them pass, and then took a long break to give space between the groups.
We were hiking on a popular trail on the first nice weekend in months. We were bound to have some sort of interaction with another group.
Leave No Trace Principle 7 – Be Considerate of Other Visitors
The incident reminded me that even though we go into nature to find peace and solitude, we still have to share that space with others. Leave No Trace Principle 7 – Be Considerate of Other Visitors – shows us how to respect others so that we as well as they, can have the best time in nature.
Jeffrey Marion writes in his book “Leave No Trace in the Outdoors” that we often neglect this principle because when we go into nature we have a sense of freedom. We tend to think we and our activity is entitled to the privileges. But the outdoors is for everyone so we need to conscious of the rules and etiquette.
One way you help prevent conflict with others is to implement Leave No Trace Principle 1 – Plan Ahead and Prepare. For example, if you plan a group hike you want to make sure there’s not something like a mountain biking race that weekend. That would be no fun for all.
Also, you want to make sure your activity is permitted on the trail you have chosen. For example, if mountain bikes are not permitted, hikers are not going to expect you to come whizzing up behind them.
It is also not considerate to break the rules. For example, mountain bikes may not be permitted because the trails are sensitive and bikes will tear them up. So tearing up the trail is not considerate to those who like to use it for its intended purpose.
Marion writes about three presumptions that are good guidelines to use. The first is to presume that others on the trail want to see as little human activity as possible. A good way to practice this is to pitch your tent far away from the trail so others hiking by don’t see it. He also suggests refraining from yelling or speaking loudly so you don’t disturb others, with the exception of bear country.
The second presumption he states is to presume that your activity will interrupt others’ activities and plan your trip accordingly so that the two activities will flow together, for example, horseback riding and mountain biking.
Another example is, say you want to rock out to your tunes or listen to that awesome podcast. Consider using one earbud so others do not have to hear it, and that way you can still be attuned to others around you. What if you come across some bird watchers? Then your loud noises will chase off the birds.
His third presumption is to assume that other’s motives are different from yours. Pay attention to other groups and try to minimize your impact on their experience in nature. Try to understand how your activities can affect their quality of time and enjoyment. When in doubt, simply strike up a conversation and ask them why they are out in nature.
Trail etiquette and sharing the trail
There are not many trails made for just one activity. It is really important to know your trail etiquette so that you can share the trail. Hikers and bikers yield to equestrians and bikers yield to hikers.
Downhill hikers also want to yield to uphill hikers. They have the right of way so they can keep their momentum going. Although, I’ve met many uphill hikers who don’t mind a break (myself included!). But the polite thing to do is ask them before you assume they need a break.
When moving out of the way for others on the trail, be sure to find a durable surface and step off the trail on the downhill side. Horses can get confused if you don’t look like a human, i.e. on a bike or wearing a large pack. So when meeting equestrians you might want to say hello so you won’t spook the horse because they can’t figure out what you are.
It’s also just polite to speak to others on the trail. This can also be a safety factor as other hikers can warn about potential dangers up ahead or simply provide you with information you may not know.
Private property and native lands
On a hike once along the Buffalo River Trail around Boxley, the trail took us across private land. There is a sign that informed us we were crossing onto private land and to please be respectful.
Always stay on the trail and be extra courteous on private lands. If there is a secret spot where the landowners don’t mind the public exploring, you also want to be extra courteous and practice Leave No Trace principles. It’s just common decency.
You also want to be sure to respect native lands that allow visitors or places that are special to Native Americans that are on public lands.
Also, some public lands allow ranchers to graze animals on them. You want to be sure to be extra respectful there as well.
Remember not everyone is a dog lover
I am a huge dog lover and love taking my dog on hikes. However, I know not everyone is like me, and by practicing Leave No Trace Principle 7 – Consider Other Visitors – I keep my dog on a leash. (I don’t have perfect off-leash control of her.) I also don’t allow her to walk up to others and sniff them without their permission.
You want to follow the rules regarding dogs. The Buffalo National River doesn’t allow dogs on the trails. So it’s considerate to follow that rule and not take them.
If you are required to keep your dog on a leash, make sure they are on a leash. If no leash is required, you still want to be sure you have full control of your dog. By keeping dogs restrained, they can’t chase off wildlife and spoil the experience for others.
No one wants to step in or smell dog poop, so it’s always considerate to clean up after your pets. If you don’t want to bag their poop and take it out, consider digging a cat hole and burying it.
Leave No Trace Principle 7 – Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Just remember to treat people as you want to be treated. Simply show others the respect you want, and this should be an easy principle to follow.