New to National Parks? Start With These Guiding Principles

Did you know the National Parks Service is more than 100 years old? Here in Michigan, we’re lucky enough to have a beautiful National Park in Isle Royale and six other great National Park sites across the state ideal for exploring.

Photo credit: Dana Blankenship

As the NPS establishes a connection with a younger group of Americans, the great land that makes up our parks will see more visitors than ever. When visiting national parks, or really any kind of recognized land, it is important to remember you are a guest in a protected area.

Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a grassroots effort to preserve and conserve the natural world. The group sets forth a set of wilderness guidelines, the Leave No Trace Seven Principles©*, which are a great resource for younger students or first-time visitors. These principles guide guests as they help to make national areas more clean, healthy and enjoyable for everyone.

The Leave No Trace Seven Principles* are:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Whether you are backpacking, camping or visiting for the day, it is smart to plan ahead and prepare. Before you leave, know the weather forecast, packing list, daily schedule and the terrain of your destination. It doesn’t hurt to share your schedule with a trusted friend or family member, either!
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: This principle is enacted to preserve and protect fragile forest areas. If you’re hiking or camping, utilize preexisting trails and camp sites so you don’t endanger any other areas. Sleep and hike on rocks, dirt, gravel or dry grass and avoid pristine areas like flower meadows, new grass or new vegetation.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out what you pack in. There are few trash cans within national parks, especially if you’re on the trail, so make sure you are picking up after yourself and taking care of the park. All food packaging and gear needs to be disposed of properly to ensure a safe environment in the parks.
  4. Leave What You Find: This may seem hard, but it’s imperative to leave what you find in parks. I know it’s difficult to find a Petoskey stone or cool rock and not take it home, but it’s best to leave it where it is. Taking items home from national parks disrupts natural ecosystems and can take away from other visitors’ experiences. You are also risking the transfer of non-native species when you take items from one environment to another.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts: Leave No Trace recognizes that most forest fires begin with out of control campfires. Instead, try stargazing, a game or activity or listen for nighttime’s animals. If you do decide to make a fire, use an established fire ring, small branches or logs and make sure the fire has died out when you go to sleep.
  6. Respect Wildlife: Don’t bother the wildlife and they won’t bother you. It’s cool to get a good picture of wildlife but be sure not to get too close. To be safe, use the “thumb rule” and stretch your arm out while sticking your thumb up. If your thumb covers up the whole animal then you’re a safe distance, but if you can still see the animal around your thumb it’s best to back up.
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors: When you’re in a national park, try not to disrupt other visitors’ experience. Try to minimize cell phone usage, lower music volume and control all pets you bring on the trail.
    Jeannette S. via Flickr

    Michigan itself has five designated national parks: Isle Royale, a national park in the Upper Peninsula; Keweenaw, a national historic park in Calumet; Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, the national lakeshore on the Leelanau Peninsula; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, along the edges of Lake Superior and the River Raisin National Battlefield located in Monroe. Together they draw more than 2 million annual visitors to Michigan.The national parks are worth your time and respect and I hope you can celebrate the centennial at one this year.

    Library card holders can access hundreds of Michigan’s state parks, historic sites, cultural attractions, campgrounds and recreation areas for free with the Michigan Activity Pass offered though MI Big Green Gym. The program is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Michigan Recreation and Park Association (mParks) and the Library Network.

    *© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics:

    What national parks are you and your family planning on visiting this year? Let us know your travel plans by leaving a comment below.

    Make sure to check out these other posts:

Photo Credit: Angela Loyd (feature), Dana Blankenship, A Healthier Michigan (trail) and Jeannette S. via Flickr (black bear).

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