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The Challenge to Leave No Trace Behind

Meaningful motto for the conscientious adventurous traveler

Where did this motto originate?

Trampling vegetation in the wild has long been a concern of naturalists and environmentalists going back as far as the 18th century.

However, it wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that it came more into focus –at a time when people were more into nature, camping, and exploring the great outdoors. Conservation organizations were springing up like the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society. Environmentalism was not just for hippies, but for anyone who enjoyed preserving the natural state of the outdoors. 

Wilderness Management and Education

Smokey the Bear is a popular American symbol to remind people not to carelessly start forest fires. This educational campaign has been very successful and is ingrained in the American mindset. Leaders in NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School), FS (Forest Service), and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) decided to organize a similar campaign in the mid 1980s by creating and implementing a cohesive message to the public. Booklets and handbooks were published outlining practices the public could take when backpacking, for example, or being outdoors.

A video was created in the 1990s focused on a set of seven principles;

  1. In popular places, concentrate use and impact.
  2. In pristine places, disperse use and impact.
  3. Stay off places that are lightly impacted or just beginning to show effects.
  4. Pack out everything brought into the wilderness.
  5. Properly dispose of anything that can’t be packed out.
  6. Leave things as they were or in better condition.
  7. Minimize noise and intrusion

By then, a phrase had been coined by the Forest Service to “Leave No Trace” through its educational outreach programs. 

In 1994, the Leave No Trace Center was incorporated as a private non-profit organization headquartered in Boulder, Colorado. 

Outdoor ethics evolving with the advent of technology

The goal of educating the public, tourists who travel to pristine natural places, on how they can mitigate environmental damage has been a long road for many organizations committed to preserving the earth’s environment.

Now that we rely on using technology through mobile phones with GPS and Geolocation features, there is a two-edged sword in that the “Leave No Trace” message can be used for people to explore areas “off-the-beaten” paths as well as places to avoid.

Learn, apply, repeat until it’s second-hand nature

Transferring all this knowledge to the explosion of worldwide travelers is an ongoing effort. Bringing that message along with each person when they go somewhere new is the hope that it sticks in people’s minds the same way that recycling or going-green is now a worldwide message applicable to every country. It’s up to all of us to apply the leave no trace ethic to all of our travels.


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