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Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace™ (LNT) is a philosophy of backcountry recreation that stresses leaving the wilderness as untouched as possible by your visit. It’s also a program designed to assist outdoor enthusiasts understand and minimize their recreational impacts on the land.

AMC partners with Leave No Trace, Inc. to promote responsible outdoor recreation. Leave No Trace, Inc. has established the seven Leave No Trace Principles that serve as guidelines for those who enjoy outdoor recreation.

You can learn more about AMC’s committment to LNT on the AMC Leave No Trace web page.

Leave No Trace principles for paddlers

Story by Karen Ingraham

AMC Outdoors, March/April 2013

A downed tree can provide a valuable ecological service in a river. It can serve as a bridge or a basking area, and can create shade for fish.
When I paddled on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway a few years back, I hadn’t expected to find a mowed lawn at our first “primitive campsite.” We had driven 50 miles on logging roads to our put-in and paddled another 8 on one of Maine’s northernmost rivers. Yet there was not only ample room for tents on the cut grass, but a picnic table and, at a discreet distance, an outhouse.
It certainly beat pulling our boats out and “creating” our own campsite, an act prohibited on the Allagash and, according to Alex DeLucia, AMC’s Leave No Trace program manager, on most Northeast waterways. “Utilizing those designated campsites helps to minimize impact,” DeLucia says—a key goal for the agencies charged with managing these ecosystems. It’s also a cornerstone principle of Leave No Trace (LNT), a program founded by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and advocated by AMC. DeLucia, who is currently developing a paddling LNT trainer course with AMC’s New Hampshire Chapter, outlines how each principle applies to water-based recreation.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
It may be tempting to open a gazetteer and choose a put-in spot, but much of the shoreline in the Northeast is privately owned, so determine ahead of time where vehicles can be left legally and safely, DeLucia advises. “You have to check permits; you have to check regulations,” he adds. “With a lot of the designated sites, especially in the Northeast, you have to make reservations.”
Dispose of Waste Properly
The “pack it in, pack it out” mantra applies to paddling as well as to hiking. DeLucia says many designated campsites have outhouses. If not, human waste—like all other waste—should be packed out. Some campsite regulations may allow for human waste to be buried. Check before you go.
Boaters packing rod and reel should also pack out fish guts and bones, unless paddling through bear country makes doing so unsafe. DeLucia then recommends burying the waste.
Leave What You Find
Protecting aquatic ecosystems means leaving natural objects, like downed trees or limbs, undisturbed, as well as preventing the spread of non-native or invasive species.
Didymo, or “rock snot,” is invasive freshwater algae that blooms on rock beds in rivers and streams and chokes out native species. It’s a growing threat in the Northeast as boaters and fishermen unwittingly pick up the microscopic algae, which can be spread in a single drop of water. Washing gear, paddles, and boats between trips is essential to containing the spread.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
“We really recommend you bring stoves,” DeLucia says. “Be independent, be self-sufficient, and don’t rely on fires.” If you choose to have a fire (check if it’s permitted), know that heavily used campsites will yield little to no wood. On certain bodies of water it is illegal to harvest wood, dead or alive, so you must bring it.
“What’s important is where you get your wood from,” DeLucia cautions. “Wait until you get where you are going” to buy it. Wood brought across state lines could harbor invasive and destructive insects, such as the emerald ash borer.
Respect Wildlife
Paddling grants us intimate access to wildlife, but we need to be unobtrusive. DeLucia suggests using binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens to observe from a safe distance. “It’s very enticing to paddle right up to a moose,” he says, “but that’s where they live, where they are trying to eat, where they are breeding.” The same applies to nesting loons.
To prevent wildlife from visiting your campsite, you should securely stash all food. Coolers, for instance, may deter rodents but what about bears?
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Noise travels farther over water, DeLucia says. “I could be a mile away, and I may hear people as clear as day. The sense of wildness that you have…just disappears.” Keep a check on the noise level, especially music.
Water is also public space. “You can’t ignore the fact that other people are using that resource,” DeLucia says. “We have to be accepting of a lot of different forms of recreation.”

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