Leave No Trace

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You Are Here:Leave No Trace

By Meggie Kernahan; Marketing & Publications Committee Member and RFOV Volunteer

Last summer, I received a request from two strangers asking to stay in my house for a night. She and her boyfriend live out of their car, she explained, and they were just looking for a shower and a comfortable bed to sleep in.

The request came through Couchsurfing, a website and app that connects travelers from all over the world looking for a free place to crash for a night. I’ve stayed as a guest in many homes during my travels, and I’ve always wanted to host someone. It’s a great way to meet new people and get to know some locals - plus an excellent budget-friendly option!

On a whim, my boyfriend and I accepted the strangers’ request and welcomed them into our home. Danielle and Aaron turned out to be excellent company as we made dinner together and sat on our deck, swapping stories and discovering shared interests. They work for Leave No Trace, an environmental non-profit focused on ethical environmental conservation, stewardship, and responsible recreation. Read my interview with Danielle below to learn more about it, and remember to apply Leave No Trace principles on the trail!

1) Tell us about yourself! How did you get involved with Leave No Trace? How long have you been on the road?

My partner and I were hired as Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers in April 2016. We’ve been on the road since then, 1 year and 10 months. I graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a BS in Philosophy; Ethics, Law, and Politics. My background and work experience has been focused on Non-Profit Marketing & Communications, particularly with organizations dedicated to protecting the environment. My passion for storytelling, art, and the environment has propelled me into communicating science to all ages and knowledge levels.

2) What is the goal of LNT and the specific program you are involved in? 

The goal of Leave No Trace is to protect the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly. The Center accomplishes this mission by delivering education and research to millions of people across the country every year. My role, as a Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer, is to provide that education by traveling the country full-time and conducting workshops and booth outreach at National Parks, State Parks, in local outfitters, at festivals, or anywhere people might be getting outdoors- which is a lot of places! This boots-on-the-ground approach allows us to connect people with the issues and impacts they’re seeing in their own backyards and teach them how to leave the places they love better than they found them.

3) What are some success stories you’ve witnessed?

We see successes all the time at workshops where people say they thought they’d been practicing Leave No Trace their whole lives until our research showed them a better method for building a fire, or setting up their tent, or pooping in the woods.

Every time you don’t see trash on the trail or don’t see a mess at a campground I like to believe it’s because we did our job- visitors knew how to protect these places, and did so.

More tangible successes are that in 2017 we conducted 593 events in 43 states, reaching over 15.4 million people with Leave No Trace skills and information. Our youth outreach events engaged 235,418 kids with in-person learning.

In the Roaring Fork area this year, we conducted a Hot Spot with White River National Forest. Our Hot Spot Program is a critical initiative for areas suffering from the severe impacts of outdoor activities that can thrive again with Leave No Trace solutions. Each location receives a unique, site-specific blend of trainings, expert consulting, education programs for youth and adults, service projects, monitoring programs and more. The result is sustainable areas that are on the road to a healthy recovery with new, custom Leave No Trace educational programs and tools in place. We’re continuing to help White River National Forest with permitting tools, education, and signage consultation to help the Conundrum Valley.

"More people are venturing into the outdoors than
ever before, and we’re not making more public land"


4) What are some challenges you still face, both as an organization and as individuals? What work is left to be done?

As an organization, a challenge we face is capacity. We want Leave No Trace knowledge to be everywhere which is why we designed an education model that helps individuals bring Leave No Trace to their communities. Becoming a Leave No Trace Master Educator allows individuals to return and educate others in a Trainer Courses or Awareness Workshop, this takes off some of the burden since we’re a small (but mighty!) staff.

As individuals, one challenge is getting people to realize how much is changing in the world of outdoor recreation. There’s this idea that individually our actions don’t have consequences, so if I’m alone in the woods why does it matter that I do my dishes in the river? How much harm can it really do? We talk a lot about this collective impact. Numbers across all outdoor spaces (forest service, park service, BLM, state park) are rising and in all demographics. More people are venturing into the outdoors than ever before, and we’re not making more public land. We’re challenged to connect people with the intangible knowledge that although they may feel they’re alone in the outdoors, their actions are noticeable and often detrimental. As federal funding for parks becomes limited, our actions of staying on the trail, to picking up trash, to building fires correctly, to pooping far enough away from water, all helps protect our public lands in ways that are hard to see in a limited visit to the area; long-term water clarity, wildlife habituation, erosion, soil pollution, and the cost to our federal and state agencies that spend limited resources undoing avoidable visitor impacts.

5) What are some of the most memorable experiences you've had as part of your work with Leave No Trace? What is your favorite part about the job?

I love how much we get to camp. We’ve camped 134 nights since we started working for Leave No Trace. I feel so lucky to be traveling the country, seeing the night sky so often, and encountering wildlife.

Some of my most memorable moments as part of my work are teaching Leave No Trace to a large group of counselors for a deaf camp, a demographic that is often underrepresented in the outdoors. I also got to promote Leave No Trace while wearing our Bigfoot costume on stage at Telluride Bluegrass Festival to an audience of 10,000 people while strumming my ukulele. But we’ve also met incredible people that work for these places every day, and it’s those small conversations, the stories about how a certain place changed someone’s life and their work ever since to protect it, that I carry with me.

6) How can others get involved and incorporate LNT principles into their lives?

There are a lot of ways to get involved. You can take a course in your area where you can learn about Leave No Trace and even how to teach it. We will be back in the Roaring Fork area in August 2018 for a Hot Spot Revisit, a great time to learn from the traveling team.

If you’re just jumping into this concept I’d recommend liking our Instagram and Facebook or taking a look at our YouTube Channel. We produce educational videos and content great for getting your feet wet.

Incorporating Leave No Trace principles into your life first means getting rid of what you think you might already know about Leave No Trace. We find many people who think they know what it is without really looking at the research we’re doing or why we’re recommending something. Browse our website and let us know if you have questions.

7) What are ways LNT can partner with Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers?

The best option for long-term partnership is to have a dedicated staff member become a Leave No Trace Master Educator or Trainer so RFOV could have your own Leave No Trace Workshops annually for new volunteers. RFOV can also become a Leave No Trace Community Partner to have even more resources for education and public lands protection.

Interested in learning more about Leave No Trace mission, work days, or educational opportunities? Click here!

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