Camping conscientiously


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Camping conscientiously

Outdoor ethics minimize environmental impacts


UPPER DELAWARE RIVER REGION — In 2007, Wes Gillingham, a resident of Sullivan County, NY led a group of students on a three-week trek that traced the 100-mile course of New York City’s water supply from Highmount, NY to lower Manhattan. The group employed low-impact camping practices during the backcountry stretches of their trip to minimize disturbances along the trek.

Gillingham spent a decade honing his outdoors skills as a ranger for the National Park Service, Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, and has served as acting director of field programs with the National Audubon Society Expedition Institute (AEI), leading backpacking trips all over the country.

The well-schooled outdoor educator and organic farmer believes that a low-impact attitude is key to enjoying the outdoors sustainably. “It’s a mindset, more than just a set of practices,” said Gillingham. “You become cognizant of your impact as an individual.”

A set of principles referred to as “Leave No Trace” (see sidebar) has been developed to guide outdoor recreationists to employ more mindful practices while backpacking in the wilds, enjoying a family camping outing at a state park or hiking one of the region’s many trails. Many state parks actively encourage LNT principles and have begun offering programs that show how to put them into action (see sidebar).

The guiding principle is to foster an understanding that our enjoyment of natural settings can be accomplished without inflicting harm upon the very resources we seek. For example, vegetation or artifacts such as stones should never be altered or removed.

“In the Catskills, once you get above 3,500 feet, the fragility of the environment increases. It’s important to be aware of your impact on the vegetation in such places,” noted Gillingham. “Stay on trails to avoid contributing to erosion problems, set up camp away from trails and out of sight of other campers. And use compact backpacking stoves, rather than open fires, to cook food.”

The main objective of conscientious recreation is to participate in such a way that your activities have no altering effect on the setting. “You’re there to enjoy the place and to leave it as you found it,” said Gillingham. “It’s a reciprocal relationship.”

Gillingham is also a founder of the non-profit Catskill Mountain Keeper, which works to protect the ecological integrity of the Catskill Mountain range while promoting sustainable growth. He plans to lead another expedition of students in 2008. For more information, visit

Leave No Trace principles

• Be prepared: Poor planning can result in unforeseen events leading to solutions that cause environmental degradation. Select gear and make plans by thinking about how it will impact the environment.

• Camp and travel on durable surfaces: Stick to worn trails and campsites to minimize damage to untrammeled areas and avoid increasing soil erosion.

• Pack out what you pack in: Take trash home with you. Don’t bury or leave it behind.

• Properly dispose of what you can’t pack out: Empty dishwater far away from springs, streams and lakes. Eliminate soaps and detergents. Bury human waste in “catholes” that are six to eight inches deep and 200 feet from water.

• Leave what you find: Don’t disturb natural features such as rocks and plants, nor alter campsites by digging, chopping or hammering.

• Minimize use of fire: Lightweight camp stoves minimize the demand for firewood at campsites and produce faster food results. If a fire must be constructed, keep it small, use established fire rings and avoid leaving any sign that it has occurred. Never burn plastics.

• Practice “Negative Trace:” Go beyond LNT and clean up trash left behind by others. Undo damage by dismantling cairns or firepits constructed in otherwise wild areas.

Resources for conscientious outdoor recreation

• The Pocono Environmental Education Center ( ) in Dingmans Ferry, PA is offering a series of programs about environmentally friendly outdoor recreation activities. On June 14, “Summer Outdoors” will teach how to prepare for overnight camping, hydration and Leave No Trace (LNT) practices. August 22-24 is the “Catskills Backpacking Trip,” which includes a backcountry overnight outing. September 12-14 concludes the series with “Canoe Trip,” meant to teach LNT practices for canoe travel and basic paddling skills. Call 570/828-2319 for more information.

• Promised Land State Park in Greentown, PA will offer a LNT program, focused on preserving natural settings as they are found, at 7:00 p.m. on June 28.

• Learn what’s happening in your area through the Leave No Trace State Advocate Program, which assists LNT educators and volunteers with local efforts to promote and teach minimum impact outdoor ethics. (Visit for more information.)

• Visit for information on improving outdoor skills through the National Outdoor Leadership School.

• Visit for programs that improve resilience and problem-solving skills through interactive outdoor education.

• Visit for information on New York State camping.

• Visit for information on Pennsylvania camping.

• Visit for low-impact hiking and trail opportunities with PA Keystone Trails Association.

• Though based in Washington state, Wilderness Awareness School offers a home study outdoor skills course that helps students refine knowledge of their local natural resources. Visit


TRR photo by Sandy Long  
Campfires should be avoided or minimized. Utilize existing firepits or, better yet, a compact camping stove. Don’t leave evidence of burning behind. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Sandy Long  
The smallest tent that will meet your needs will also minimize the footprint it leaves at your campsite. Select sites that are already established. Avoid removing vegetation to create a site. (Click for larger version)

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