Leave No Trace: Hiking Ethically In Hocking Hills

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Every time I set foot on a hiking trail in Hocking Hills, I am immediately reminded of the delicate balance of nature here. Brilliant rock formations, waterfalls, and dense forestry are not just a backdrop for outdoor adventures; they are vital parts of an ecosystem that relies on careful human interaction.

Leave No Trace (LNT) boils down to seven principles designed to guide our behavior in natural spaces. These principles act as a framework for making better decisions that protect the environment and ensure these places remain untouched for future generations.

Table of Contents

First, we need to become familiar with the ecology of Hocking Hills. The area is a complex network of ecosystems, each sensitive to even the smallest disruption. From rare plant species to cave-dwelling bats, the wildlife and flora here thrive on seclusion and a pristine environment.

The importance of Leave No Trace becomes clear when you consider the cumulative impact of visitors. Each of us can influence the health of this beautiful region either positively or negatively. It’s not just about leaving no trace, but also about ensuring our presence doesn’t interrupt the natural processes that define Hocking Hills.

The Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Leave What You Find
  4. Dispose of Waste Properly
  5. Respect Wildlife
  6. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
  7. Minimize Campfire Impacts

Let’s consider each one individually…

#1 – Plan Ahead and Prepare

Visit the park or preserve website before arriving to learn about regulations and considerations for the location. When you arrive, you should always check the informational kiosk sign, if one is available, to learn of any changes or activity that may be occurring during your visit (ie. trail maintenance, burn bans, trail closures, etc)

#2 – Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Trail markers, painted blazes and man-made structures, like bridges, are designed to protect flora and fauna (that means plants and animals). Every time we step off trail, we impact plant and animal life. Some of the most important organisms are too small for us to see. Staying on trail protects them. When hundreds of people do not respect the parks, and continually get off trail, it is devastating to the area.

#3 – Leave What You Find

Sure, picking a pretty flower for someone you love seems like a sweet idea, but once it is picked, it is gone and others cannot enjoy it the way you did. Cool rocks, nuts, and animal signs, like feathers and bones, tell a story to the visitor. Use a camera or a smart phone to document your journey and the favorite things you found. You can make great personal gifts out of your photo/picture documentation. This way the next person can enjoy it too.

#4 – Dispose of Waste Properly

Carry out what you carry in! Even if it is compostable, leaving behind food items may draw in wildlife, creating unsafe encounters between humans and animals. If your dog poops, carry it out! If there is no trash can OR if the trash can is overflowing, take it with you and dispose of it at home or where you are staying. Nothing ruins our beautiful outdoors more than trash and dog poop, or dog poop bags, left on the trail. And please, if you have a baby and change their diaper on the trail, DO NOT leave the soiled diaper hidden behind a rock or a log. Take it with you and dispose of it properly!

#5 – Respect Wildlife

Who doesn’t love to see a deer, rabbit, birds, even snakes and frogs when they are exploring the outdoors!?Keep a safe distance from wildlife and pack out all human food to protect humans and animals. Use binoculars to get a better view, and take a moment to just sit quietly to really take in the natural world around you.

#6 – Be Considerate of Other Visitors

It is easy to get excited and use “outdoor” voices when you are in nature. But remember that public spaces are for everyone. Use “indoor” voices so others in the park can enjoy the sounds of nature too. Be polite and yield to other visitors. Think about your actions and how they are affecting the experience of other visitors.

#7 – Minimize Campfire Impacts

The idea of a campfire on a trip in the outdoors conjures up the image of songs with friends and a hot beverage. First, make sure campfires are allowed in the area. Second, check local burning laws and regulations (yes, Ohio has burn laws). Keep fires small using only sticks from the ground. A true outdoorsman does not cut on a tree or chop down a tree for a campfire.

Planning Your Hike Responsibly

Starting your excursion with a well-crafted plan not only enhances your experience but also protects the trails you’re set to explore. Let me guide you through essential considerations to plan responsibly for your hike in Hocking Hills.

Begin by researching the trails and their regulations. Some trails may have specific guidelines or restricted areas essential for the conservation of the park. Knowing these details helps you prepare and ensures you don’t inadvertently cause harm.

Seasonal weather can drastically affect trail conditions. In Hocking Hills, sudden rain can make paths slippery and dangerous. Check the forecast and plan your trip when conditions provide safe footing and minimal environmental impact.

Choosing the right gear is about more than comfort; it’s about minimizing your impact on the environment. Pack lightweight, eco-friendly equipment that doesn’t damage the ecosystem, like reusable water containers for example.

Don’t forget to leave all unnecessary packaging at home (or at your cabin). This reduces the chance of litter being accidentally left behind. Carry a small trash bag with you to pack out all of your waste, including organic food waste, which can disrupt local wildlife feeding behaviors.

On the Trail: Minimizing Your Footprint

Hocking Hills invites hikers to explore its rugged beauty, but it’s my responsibility, as well as yours, to tread lightly. Keeping to the marked paths is non-negotiable; it’s respect for the land and preventive care in one action. The surrounding greenery isn’t just pleasing to the eye; it’s a habitat to countless organisms that depend on its undisturbed conditions.

Littering is simply out of the question. Any trash I pack in, I pack out. That includes the easily overlooked pieces like fruit peels or nutshells. They might seem harmless but can actually introduce non-native species or diseases that harm the local ecosystem. And for those longer treks, knowing and using established restrooms or proper waste burial techniques is crucial for protecting the water sources in the park.

Respect isn’t just for nature; it extends to fellow hikers too. Keeping noise levels down ensures peace for wildlife and allows everyone to enjoy the calming whispers of nature. When I cross paths with others, a friendly nod or a brief hello often suffices. After all, like me, people come here for the serene experience.

Stop the Cairns

While stacking rocks is age-old form of marking trails and landmarks, cairns are not used as trail markers by the Hocking Hills State Park or any other parks in the Hocking Hills region. This practice of stacking rocks by visitors leaves nature different than how you found it. We should all be able to enjoy the uninterrupted beauty of the great outdoors. Leave No Trace means leaving no trace that we were there.

There is a famous quote that sums this idea up nicely, and you will see it repeated over and over again on this website:

Educating Others and Promoting Ethical Hiking

Sharing my knowledge and experiences isn’t just a courtesy; it’s my responsibility as an ethical hiker and steward of this beautiful land. When I talk about my hikes, I emphasize the impact of our actions and the importance of following Leave No Trace principles.

I also participate in conservation initiatives. When I’m hiking, I always have extra trash bags with me in my pack and I take the time to pick up trash others have left behind. I also participate in trail clean-up events at every opportunity.

The power of social media is undeniable. I use it to advocate for ethical hiking practices by posting about my low-impact adventures and tips for sustainable outdoor activities.

By doing my part to educate others and promote responsible behavior in the outdoors, I help ensure that the beauty of Hocking Hills can be enjoyed by generations to come.

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