Leave No Trace When You Head for the Hills This Weekend

Castlewood Canyon is a popular Colorado State Park.
Castlewood Canyon is a popular Colorado State Park. CPW
Open space will be crowded this holiday weekend, with people flocking to the 42 Colorado State Parks.

If you long to appear as though you’ve been an outdoorsy type all your life — and also keep the great outdoors looking great — start studying the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace, the official set of standards embraced by conservationists and recreationists alike.

“We have this outdoor life that we all love here in Colorado, but I hope that people think about what that means and the responsibilities it involves,” says Bridget Kochel, statewide public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “It should be all about balance, between what we love to do and what nature needs us to do.”

With record numbers of newbies wandering the woods since the pandemic began, Kochel says that CPW’s goal has been to get the word out about Leave No Trace, with an emphasis on four components that particularly impact Colorado’s outdoor bounty.

Know before you go
Know what you need to have with you (especially if this is a new-to-you activity), know what the conditions will be (and that they can change), and know how to help yourself in case things go badly.

In addition, those unfamiliar with Colorado’s weird weather ways can be caught off-guard, which can be inconvenient in the best-case scenario, life-threatening in the worst. CPW rangers run into folks all the time who drove away from Denver’s 95 degrees, only to be surprised by snow on the ground at higher altitudes. “Or they thought the mountains would be so much cooler, and then went 100 percent and wound up with heatstroke,” Kochel says. “Do some research ahead so that you’re prepared for anything, including drastic changes.”

Treat campfires with respect
Most of Colorado is facing drought this year, with some parts designated as “Exceptional Drought,” the highest (read: worst) level. Many places will be forced to prohibit any kind of open burning, but when campfires are allowed, the onus is on you to know how to monitor and extinguish them safely.

“We’ve had instances of people throwing their coals into dumpsters, which then caught on fire,” Kochel says. “It’s really critical to know where you can build a campfire, fire safety, and how to put out a fire so that it’s truly out.”

Pack it in, pack it out
“If you brought it there, you have to leave with it,” Kochel explains. “People have an unrealistic view of how long things take to decompose, and in dry conditions, things like orange peels may never break down, or they could take decades.”

Pack it out also pertains to poop, including your dog’s. One convenient way to carry it is to repurpose an old wide-mouth water bottle with a tight-fitting lid; label it “Do not use for drinking” and carry it in your backpack to store poop bags safely and stink-free.

Park only in designated spots
Prepare for the potential of a full parking lot with no other options nearby. “Parking along roads or in other non-designated areas is problematic for several reasons,” Kochel says. “First, it’s almost always illegal, and you will get a ticket. Second, if you park along the road where you’re not supposed to, you’re likely to trample vegetation that can’t handle that kind of abuse, which can also alter the natural balance of the area. Trails are being widened and altered because of folks trying to squeeze in places where they shouldn’t.”

It’s a good idea to have an alternative activity planned in another place — or be ready to accept that you may have to cancel and try for another time. “It’s also smart to visit popular areas at off-peak times to try to beat the crowds,” Kochel adds.
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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner