Leave No Trace

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been enjoying Long Island’s great outdoors more than ever.  With most attractions closed or many feeling unsafe visiting indoor locations with others, Long Islanders have developed a new love for our woods and beaches.

Unfortunately though, an increase in visitors can also mean an increase in litter and land degradation.  We’ve seen people violating park rules, like walking their dogs unleased or in parks where they are not allowed.  We’ve also seen an increase in litter, like food and beverage containers, dog waste bags, and even a new kind of litter, personal protection equipment, like masks and gloves.

surgical mask littered in the woods

Mask littered in the Pine Barrens Woods – June 2020

Don’t get us wrong, we love seeing people discovering and enjoying Long Island’s natural treasures.  Long Islanders have put up more than two billion dollars to purchase and preserve open space.  This land is your land!  However, it’s important that we respect the land and take care of it.  We often say it’s best to “leave no trace” – but what exactly does that mean?  Here are some suggestions on how to best enjoy our parks without trashing them.

Don’t litter.  Properly dispose of your waste.  Most parks have trash receptacles at trail entrances, or sometimes, along the trail.  If there are no receptacles, make sure to carry out any items you carry in.  If your dog goes to the bathroom, pick up the waste and dispose of the bag properly.

Leave What You Find.  Leave with only photographs and memories.  Leave areas as you found them.  Don’t mark or carve into trees and especially do not leave graffiti.  Do not rip out plants or flowers and leave all natural objects.  Take pictures instead.

graffiti covering a historic stone structure in the pine barrens

This historic structure at Cranberry Bog County Park (pumphouse from the park’s history as an active cranberry farm) was defaced with graffiti in 2020 during the pandemic. (Photo by Anibal Avendano)

Respect Wildlife.  Observe wildlife from a distance.  Do not touch, pick-up or feed wild animals.  If an animal changes its behavior because of you, you are too close and have caused a disruption.  We have noticed that seal watching has become especially popular during the pandemic – seals are a federally-protected species, always maintain at least 200 feet distance.

Stay on Trails.  Trails were designed to allow people to travel through the woods while minimizing impact on the environment as much as possible.  Stay on the trails to avoid trampling plants (many of which are rare in the Pine Barrens), eroding land, and to avoid picking-up ticks.

Be Considerate of Others.  By leaving no trace and respecting park rules, you keep nature intact for others to enjoy.  Why did you head out into nature – to enjoy the peace, beauty and solitude? Well, be sure not to ruin that for others.  Keep noise to a minimum.  Do not litter.  Leash your dogs and pick up and properly dispose of their waste.  Be respectful with technology such as phones, cameras and drones.  And of course, always be kind to others.

By following these simple principles, we can all safely enjoy our beautiful surroundings and keep it in tact for future generations.  Enjoy your time in nature and leave it the way you found it, so others can enjoy it too.  Leave with nothing but memories and photographs.

By: Katie Muether Brown, Long Island Pine Barrens Society