September 29, 2022

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Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Visiting a State Park? Remember to ‘Leave No Trace’

Leave No Trace

If there is one thing that the global pandemic has shown, it is the value of fresh air and open space. Visitors to Maryland state parks cashed in on that value in record-breaking numbers in 2020. At the same time many businesses, attractions, and sporting events were restricted or shut down, state parks in Maryland saw a 45% increase in visitation last year, and 2021 is on track to meet or exceed these unprecedented numbers of park visitors.

While it is a wonderful phenomenon that many more people have discovered the great opportunities that Maryland’s 75 state parks have to offer — many for the very first time — this trend has brought with it some significant challenges.

The sheer number of visitors, compounded with a relative lack of experience in outdoor, resource-based recreation, has led to significant increases in litter, trail damage, parking issues, user conflicts, and other resource impacts. Although the adage “loved to death” might seem cliche, it truly applies to some of the state’s more heavily impacted natural areas.

Park rangers across Maryland are therefore ramping up efforts to teach visitors to Leave No Trace. The Maryland Park Service is making efforts to increase visitor understanding of several simple principles that will help them make responsible decisions to better minimize their impact, while maximizing their experience.

#1 • Know Before You Go: Before you visit, plan ahead and prepare for any special considerations or regulations that might restrict activities in a particular park or area. Check the website of the park for up-to-the-minute information. Make sure you have the necessary skills and equipment to safely enjoy your time in the outdoors.

#2 • Stick to Trails and Camp Overnight Right: Whether you plan an overnight adventure, set out to hike a trail, or perhaps a combination of these activities, remember this second principle. Maryland public lands feature more than 1,000 miles of trails. A great deal of science and engineering goes into determining the safest and most sustainable route and design of these trails. All hikers, bikers, and equestrians are asked to stay on the designated trails for their own safety and to protect trailside plants. Campers should camp only on existing or designated campsites to avoid damaging vegetation and keep their camping equipment on the provided camp pad.

#3 • Trash Your Trash: One of the most challenging aspects of outdoor recreation is what to do with waste. When you do not see trash receptacles, take your trash with you, otherwise dispose of it properly in a nearby receptacle.

#4 • Leave What You Find: Maryland’s parks are full of beautiful natural wonders and significant historical resources. These natural and cultural resources should be protected for everyone to see and appreciate. Leave plants, rocks, and historical items as you find them so others can enjoy them. Treat living plants with respect. Carving, hacking, or peeling plants and trees may open them up to infection or kill them.

#5 • Be Careful With Fire: Use a camp stove for cooking. If you want to have a campfire, be sure it’s permitted and safe to build a fire in the area you’re visiting. Use only the existing fire rings to protect the ground from heat. Keep your fire small. Trash should never be burned in a campfire, as the resulting scent can attract unwanted close encounters with wildlife in the campsite. Instead, secure your trash and pack it out or place in a proper receptacle. Finally, burn all wood to ash and be sure the fire is completely out and cold before you leave.

#6 • Keep Wildlife Wild: Observe wildlife from a distance and never approach, feed, or follow them. Human food is unhealthy for all wildlife and feeding them starts bad habits.

#7 • Be Considerate of Other Visitors: With an ever-growing number of people seeking healthy outdoor activities, it becomes even more important that visitors respect each other and give each other the space to enjoy the resources in their own way. Be sure the fun you have outdoors does not bother anyone else. Remember, other visitors are there to enjoy the outdoors, too.

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