Earlier in my writing career, I wrote a short-lived online column (called "Green Footsteps") for The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) , a non-profit organization founded in 1990 that endeavors to unite conservation, communities, and sustainable travel (i.e., “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”). Through researching and writing my former column, I learned a lot about taking care of the environment while traveling.
Recently, fellow Moon blogger Christopher P. Baker reminded me of such travel ethics when I read his post “Ten Pointers for Ethical Tourism in Costa Rica,”  which focuses on the cultural aspects of ecotourism. As a companion to his helpful post, I’d like to offer some advice for traveling with environmental care, too.
All year long, countless outdoor enthusiasts – from the United States and elsewhere – flock to America’s national parks and forests, state parks and forests, and other protected areas. Although the bulk of these visitors come during the summer months, plenty of travelers enjoy these lovely places in the wintertime, too. Whether you’re hiking in Yosemite National Park , camping in one of Michigan’s  state parks, exploring one of the country’s precious coastlines , or experiencing another locale altogether, you’re sure to find a wealth of interesting trails, gorgeous vistas, engaging wildlife, and every other natural resource sought by the eco-minded traveler. No matter where you’re headed, you should always research the region ahead of time, pack accordingly (especially for extreme weather, potential hazards, and emergencies), and follow all guidelines and regulations once you arrive – if only to preserve the wilderness, protect the area’s flora and fauna, and ensure a safe, healthy experience for present and future visitors.
In keeping with this advice, here are ten tips for sustainable travel in America’s parks and wildlands, courtesy of Leave No Trace , a center for outdoor ethics based in Boulder, Colorado:
1. Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use; visit in small groups when possible; and use a map, compass, or GPS to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns, or flagging.
2. In popular areas, use established trails and campsites; in pristine areas, set up small campsites on rock, gravel, snow, or dry grasses, at least 200 feet from lakes and streams to prevent water contamination and damage to shore vegetation. Avoid creating new campsites and trails, which can lead to erosion.
3. Minimize campsite impact by refraining from building structures, digging trenches, and starting campfires. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and a lantern for light. Where fires are permitted, rely on established fire rings, use sticks lying on the ground, keep fires small, burn all wood and coals to ash, put out the fire completely, and scatter the cool ashes.
4. Repackage food to minimize waste; store all leftover food and trash (including used toilet paper and hygiene products) for proper disposal after your trip; and never burn, bury, or scatter trash in the park or wilderness. If you pack it in, pack it out.
5. Try to use toilets near trailheads; in the wilderness, dispose of solid human waste by digging a hole 8 inches deep (and at least 200 feet from water, campsites, and trails), depositing the waste in said hole, and then covering and disguising the hole afterward.
6. To wash yourself, your clothes, or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from lakes or streams, use small amounts of biodegradable soap, and scatter strained water.
7. Observe wildlife from a distance; do not approach or feed wild animals; avoid them during sensitive times like mating, nesting, or hibernation; and store your rations and trash securely (e.g., in a bear-resistant canister, placed in a tree far from your campsite).
8. Control your pets at all times, or better yet, avoid bringing them into parks and wilderness areas altogether. Dogs, in particular, can annoy other travelers, harass wildlife, pollute campsites, and pass harmful diseases to other animals.
9. Be courteous to other users on the trail; camp away from trails and other visitors; and avoid making loud noises, which could alert wildlife.
10. Take only photographs, leave only footprints – in other words, refrain from touching cultural structures and artifacts, leave natural resources (such as wildflowers and petrified wood) as you find them, and avoid introducing or transporting nonnative species.
If you can think of any other eco-friendly pointers, feel free to add them to the list – by leaving a comment below. Thanks!
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me at laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.