Environmental co-op hosts Leave No Trace crash course

Students plant trees at the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve. On Friday, Nov. 10, Ryn Davison held a Leave No Trace crash course at the Farm, which included a trail hike./ Courtesy of Ryn Davison

Those passionate about the environment will embrace any opportunity to learn about ways to reduce their environmental impact while enjoying the outdoors. For these excited individuals, cold weather is only a minor setback. Such commitment was exemplified Friday evening at the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, where outdoorists and environmentalists attended the Leave No Trace Awareness Crash Course hosted by the Environmental Cooperative at the Vassar Barns.

Four people, all local outdoorists, attended the Crash Course on Friday. Three of the four attendees had backpacked on several-day excursions in the Adirondack or Catskill Mountains and were generally familiar with the Leave No Trace principles.

Leave No Trace is an independent initiative led by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. According to their website, “The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a national organization that protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly. The Center accomplishes this mission by delivering cutting-edge education and research to millions of people across the country every year” (Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, “About,” 2012).

Friday’s course was led by Ryn Davison, a member of the Student Conservation Association (SCA), a nationwide conservation organization founded by Elizabeth Titus Putnam ’55. The SCA matches dedicated conservationists with open positions at parks and preserves like the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, which serve as headquarters for the SCA’s Hudson Valley Regional Corps. Through the SCA, Davison was hired as the Vassar Ecological Preserve’s Environmental Steward.

Davison explained the value of community outreach via email, “Community outreach allows the preserve to share its aesthetic and educational values so that others develop future interest in the sciences, conservation, and land management.”

Teaching courses like Friday’s Crash Course is one of Davison’s many responsibilities at the Preserve. In addition to educational outreach, the Environmental Steward is also responsible for long-term data collection, trail building and maintenance and general restoration, such as tree planting or vine clipping.

Friday’s crash course was divided into three parts: an initial discussion, a short excursion into the Preserve and then a final reflective discussion. The attendees began by filling out a short survey intended to assess their prior knowledge of Leave No Trace. After completing their surveys, the attendees discussed their answers with the group.

Davison led the discussion, reflecting that it was probably a review of what most of the attendees already knew. She highlighted the importance of preparation before any outdoor activity, pro- viding strategies for safety and eco-friendliness on the trail. “Plan Ahead” is the first principle of Leave No Trace. The grouped discussed options like hiking with a friend or letting someone know where you are when hiking alone, as well as bringing dry food along with you, taking a first aid kit and using a topographical map or GPS to familiarize yourself with your surroundings and remain aware of your distance from a water source at all times.

After the discussion, Davison, followed by the attendees, ventured out into the cold of the preserve. Following the Preserve’s North Trail, Davison instructed the attendees on the principles of Leave No Trace, using situations encountered on the field as demonstrative examples. She started by talking about animals, explaining how to behave when encountering wildlife. This lesson reflected the sixth principle of Leave No Trace, “Respect Wildlife,” which instructs you not to disturb creatures or their habitat in the wild.

Similar to this is the fourth Leave No Trace principle, “Leave.” Adventurers are to leave nature in its natural state, not removing anything or leaving anything of their own behind. Related to this are principles three and six, “Dispose Your Waste” and “Manage Your Impact,” respectively. Outdoorists are encouraged to consider alternatives to fires, such as gas stoves, and to use pre-existing shelters and campsites. Davison stopped the group beside a rocky outcropping to demonstrate the second principle of Leave No Trace, “Use Durable Surfaces.” When outdoors, backpackers, hikers and campers are encouraged to stay on established trails and build their shelters and fires on durable surfaces such as rocks, gravel or sand.

Following the trek, Davison led the attendees back into the Barn to discuss what they learned on the trail. Here, she reflected on some personal anecdotes regarding the seventh principle of Leave No Trace, “Be Considerate on the Trail.” Outdoorists should think of other trail-goers, by preserving campsites, shelters and other resources for the next people to use them.

Addison Tate ’17, a post-baccalaureate fellow working at the Environmental Cooperative at the Vassar Barns, was one of the four in attendance Friday. An environmentalist himself, Tate reflect- ed on the Leave No Trace principles. He explained that knowing conservation principles such as Leave No Trace is essential in having a healthy relationship with nature. Via email, Tate said, “Such preservation and restoration ethics easily extend from direct impacts in the natural environment to practices such as consumption habits and community engagement, which shape our place with- in broader social and ecological systems.”

Davison reflected on Friday’s program, explaining, “Leave No Trace is important because it shapes how we interact with the world around us It outlines ways in which we can preserve the spaces we seek out for solitude or adventure, and ensure that those spaces exist in the future.”

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