Nature beckons adventurers across the globe. Recreational and ardent hikers venture into the landscape to get a glimpse of the wonders of the great outdoors. Veteran hikers are often careful to watch out for and protect natural resources, while novice hikers may not be aware of that responsibility. Hiking responsibly includes being mindful of natural habitats and what you bring in or take away from parks, forests and other natural areas.
Carry in/carry out
Part of protecting nature involves carrying out what you carry in. What you bring with you in your backpack should not be left behind. Some parks and wildlife centers do not have trash receptacles, so it is up to you as the hiker to carry trash out of your surroundings and properly dispose of it. Children who may not understand litter and its impact on habitats can be taught lessons about picking up trash and taking items with them out of the park when hiking.
Even though foods like fruit rinds or seeds can be biodegradable, it is still important to take your food with you when you leave the park. If you don't, you may inadvertently introduce a foreign species of plant to a habitat that can overtake indigenous plants. Also, animals should not be allowed to eat human food; otherwise they may become used to it and not forage for their own food. Animals also may become brazen, approaching people for an easy meal.
Stay on trails
It can be tempting to be a trailblazer and head out into the middle of the wilderness. This can be dangerous and potentially harmful to wildlife. Going off the trails means you will have to rely on your ability to navigate to find your way in and out of your hiking location. Those who are unsure of navigation and using a compass may find themselves lost. Park rangers or emergency personnel may have trouble locating individuals who have ventured off the trails.
When hikers veer off of the established trails they are treading on untouched parts of the landscape, where they can damage delicate foliage or stomp on nesting sites of some animals. If you are off of the trail, you may be more likely to come across animals, which could frighten them and cause unpredictable behavior.
Keep dogs on leashes so they will not venture off and get lost or injured. Dogs may dig holes or chase animals, disrupting the surroundings.
Don't remove or introduce wildlife
Picking flowers may seem harmless, but hikers should be careful to leave their surroundings untouched as much as possible. Your goal when exploring the wilderness is to observe and not disturb. That means leaving plants and animals alone.
In addition, do not introduce foreign animals to a landscape. Some people release lizards or fish that were once pets into ponds and rivers rather than trying to find homes for these creatures. There are many areas of the country that have become overrun by animals that are not native to these habitats. For example, invasive species have been taking over areas of the Florida Everglades for years. According to the National Parks Service, the Burmese Python is rapidly becoming a poster child for nonnative species in the Everglades, along with the Tokay Gecko and the Bufo Toad.
Be cautious with campfires
If you will be hiking and camping, be sure to take precautions. Always check to see the wildfire risk rating, which is often posted at the park entrance, before establishing your campsite. If the risk is high, you may want to forgo a campfire or be especially cautious when containing the fire. All it takes is one errant spark to ignite dry timber and brush. Contain a campfire with a ring of rocks. Feed the fire with only enough wood to keep it at a moderate size and do not use any accelerants to make a bigger blaze.
When you are done with your campfire, be sure to extinguish it completely and double-check that all ash and cinder are completely cool before moving on from the campsite.
Be courteous of others
Many parks and hiking trails are quiet sanctuaries for people and wildlife. Keep this in mind when hiking. Do not play loud music or be disruptive in any way. Disruptive or inconsiderate behavior can spoil the experience for others enjoying the outdoors and frighten animals in the area.
Hiking and enjoying nature is a popular pastime. Keeping the landscape pristine and protecting plants and animals should be a goal of all hikers.