Leave No Trace

LNT 1 - Why me?

Hello All -

This message should explain a little of why I am involved with LNT.

First, some acronym definitions:

BLM - Bureau of Land Management

USFS - US Forest Service

NPS - National Park Service

NOLS - National Outdoor Leadership School

I have had the great good fortune to be involved with an interagency team that presents the "Leave No Trace" (LNT) message to large Boy Scout gatherings. So far, we have talked our heads off at two national Jamborees ('93 and '97) and three National Order of the Arrow Conventions (NOAC'94,96, and '98). Fifteen of us (BLM, USFS, NPS, and NOLS) did both static displays and active presentations at the '97 Jamboree that reached an estimated 22,000 Scouts and adult leaders. All told, we guesstimate that our team has presented the LNT message (at some level) to about 40,000 Scouts and Scouters.

All but the NOLS folks on this particular team are Scouting volunteers. We all have gone thru the NOLS "LNT Master Educator" course (a fun week of learning/practicing LNT in some beautiful backcountry locations around the country!). We all do a LOT of LNT training outside of Scouting (RV users, horsemen, Sierra Clubbers, etc.). I am a BLM volunteer as well as a Scouting volunteer...but sometimes I also put my thru-hiker hat on when I talk LNT.

Is it enough? Not EVEN close! We all have a long way to go. My primary effort has been to help introduce LNT into Boy Scouting...an organization that I value highly and have been associated with for decades. Over the years I have talked to a LOT of managing agency folks - I always ask how Scout groups are doing in the backcountry under their care.

When I hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) I talked to the feds in NH (White Mountains), VA (Shenandoah National Park and Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area) and in TN (Great Smokey Mountains National Park). When I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) I talked to quite a few folks from the 33 wilderness areas, 24 National Forests, and 7 National Parks we passed through. These "Great Trails" have offered plenty of chances to talk with state, county, and volunteer trail-club maintainers.

When I took my LNT Masters course, the large majority of participants were USFS types hailing from VA to TX (and almost all other states in the south). Lotsa talking to lotsa folks...and this doesn't even count the conversations on the trail or over the internet since my distance-hikes. Over and over, I asked how Scout groups were doing.

Unfortunately, the answer has been 100% uniform...not worth a hoot!

I get lotsa stuff like:

group sizes WAY too big,

way too much noise,

completely soak up popular campsites or shelters,

kids out of control,

inappropriate play damages the backcountry,

inexperienced campers in areas that call for experience,

don't keep appointments to do service projects,

camping skills badly out of date,

using inappropriate areas (hi-use, fragile) to train new campers,

and...well, I think that you get the idea <f>.

Some of it stems from a complete misunderstanding of why we are in the woods in the first place (many think that we are just an "outing club").

Some of it comes from the belief that any group of kids is a Scout group (without the flags and uniforms it's often hard to tell which groups are Scouts...so it's often easiest to just assume that they all are).

A small part of it probably is Scout-bashing.

But...some of it we have earned.

Quite a few folks (in all facets of backcountry use) have decided that we "Scout types" no longer know what we are doing in the woods.

When asked if I agree, I have to fess up and say "yes and no" <f>.

Yes, we have MANY units that routinely commit one or more of the above listed "sins"; and yes, we have been goshawful slow in spreading modern minimum-impact programs like LNT completely into every nook and cranny of BSA.

No, not all of our units are "sinners" (some of our best units rival any outdoor group anywhere!); and no, we won't be dragging our feet forever (check out the new "Passport To High Adventure" and look for the good words about LNT in the new edition of the Boy Scout Handbook coming out late this year!).

The bad news is that damage IS constantly being done to our beautiful backcountry each and every day...and we ARE doing part of it!

The good news is that with just a little effort we can turn it completely around. The wonderfully sharp kids at the NOAC's understand and embrace LNT so fast that it sometimes scares you <g>. These highly idealistic Scouts prove (once again!) that an "ethics based" education program like LNT is made to order for an "ethics based" education movement like Scouting.

Some level of LNT training is appropriate for all of us in Scouting...from 6 to 106! It takes us Scouters to make it happen...all we have to do is start <g>.

- Charlie II  AT (MEGA'93)
             PCT (Mex@Can'95)
         Chipping away at the CDT

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