America’s national parks are symbols of the beauty that nature has to offer and its impact on humanity. They play a significant role in preserving nature, which is all the more poignant in an age where the Earth loses 14.6 million hectares of forest yearly and extinction rates are at 1,000 times the natural rate.
When you visit one of the 423 national parks in the United States, you also have a part in preserving their glorious resources. Thankfully, there are simple things you can do to enjoy your park trip responsibly.
Avoid Taking Souvenirs
National parks are rich with resources and natural beauty, but you must remember that these things are not for taking. Taking home souvenirs from the environment is not only illegal but also harmful to nature conservation.
Leave things as they are and you can still get a lot of fulfillment from the nature surrounding you. You can take pictures, have a picnic, and even practice the art of Shinrin-Yoku. The latter means forest bathing, which is the immersive practice of ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ by just basking in the sights and sounds around you. Forest bathing can have lasting positive effects on your well-being which are arguably the best things you can take home with you.
Use the Right Waste Disposal Methods
If you’re bringing any disposable items or any kind of waste with you, make sure you get rid of them properly. Trash just makes national parks ugly and less sanitary, so it’s every visitor’s responsibility to pick up after themselves.
A good rule to follow is to simply “pack it in/pack it out”. An article by Love Holidays instructs would-be park visitors that catholes must be dug six to eight inches deep and at least 200 feet away from water, camps, and trails. It is also noted, though, that some parks require you to pack out human waste and dispose of it elsewhere. Make sure you check park rules when you visit to avoid unwanted predicaments.
Keep Your Distance From Wildlife
It’s amazing to see the wildlife in national parks enjoying their own habitats. Avoid the temptation to interact with them or feed them, as this will only be counterproductive and may even be dangerous. Simply keep a safe distance and admire them from afar, so you can go about your own day without disrupting the surrounding environment.
You don’t want to risk biodiversity loss because you ended up disrupting the local habitat or harming some of the wildlife. Studies from Nature Sustainability confirm that people are more likely to positively contribute to conservation when they acknowledge that wildlife is deserving of rights and are a part of the social community. If you can treat them with the same respect that you expect from strangers, it can go a long way in keeping national parks safe and sustainable.
Be Prepared and Pack the Essentials
You not only have a responsibility to the environment but also to yourself. Whether you’re going alone or in a group, you need to take the proper steps for your own safety and well-being.
Forbes’ coverage of national parks reveals that the most common accidents involve drowning and falling, despite these incidents being among the most preventable ones. You can have a fun experience without endangering yourself and others, so make sure to avoid recklessness and be prepared.
First, do your research on safe locations and weather conditions. Then, make sure you pack a first aid kit. Bring water and snacks, map out your route, watch out for hazards, and consider your limitations. With enough planning, you can have an even more fulfilling experience without the dangers of the unknown.
When you make the effort to be responsible, you create a better overall experience for yourself and others that may want to visit national parks. It also makes park maintenance that much easier, so future generations can continue to have spaces to enjoy nature.