Explore Arizona

Jun 08 2017

7 Ways to be a Mindful Arizona Explorer

The Arizona Republic

With 24 national parks and trails, 31 state parks and countless areas to hike, swim, camp and explore, there's much to enjoy across Arizona.

However, it's important to degrade the land as little as possible while enjoying it. Phoenix Park Ranger Chris Webb said there's protocol to follow, and every hiker should know it.

“It’s really important to follow Leave No Trace ethics when you’re hiking,” Webb said.

She's referring to the seven principles listed by The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a Colorado-based nonprofit. Those principles describe the best practices to mindfully plan trips into the wilderness.

Webb said it's each person's responsibility to protect Arizona's trails, parks, rivers and deserts, and Jill Bernstein, the executive director of Keep Arizona Beautiful, agrees.

“Garbage attracts garbage," Bernstein said. "When you’re going out into these natural areas, you’re going out there because it is natural and beautiful … and when you leave your trash, you’re ruining it for the next person."

For those heading outdoors, here are seven tips for mindful explorers to make sure they leave Arizona as they found it.

1. Plan to pick up after yourself

Every camping or hiking trip involves preparation. The easiest first step to being an environmentally conscious explorer is to plan thoughtfully.

“People do things that are convenient, but they also do things out of habit," Bernstein said. "It’s really not that hard to pick up after yourself, and once you’ve done it … you realize it’s not that hard.”

Bernstein recommended asking the questions, "Will I have trash with me?" and "What will I do with it?" before each trip. That way, packing trash bags will seem as obvious as water and sunscreen.

2. Stop thinking biodegradable

Many products are labeled biodegradable. However, following Leave No Trace principles, you should leave absolutely nothing behind.

“Leave no trace means exactly that — leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos,” Webb said.

Some people think cigarette butts are biodegradable (they're not) or wonder whether smoking is allowed in Phoenix parks. (It's not when fire bans are in effect, and it's only allowed in parking lots at other times.)

“Not that people who hike probably smoke, most probably don’t," Bernstein said, "but people have this tremendous misconception that cigarette butts (are) just going to disintegrate, but they don’t.”

3. This applies to fruit, too

Webb said fruit garbage is one of the most common things she finds on trails. Don't toss peels or cores, thinking they'll degrade.

“If you take any fruit or food with you, make sure to bring it all out with you, including orange peels, banana peels and apple cores," Webb said.

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She said she has met many hikers who think they're helping out the wildlife by leaving them snacks, but that causes more harm than good.

"The animals' regular diets are not apple cores and orange peels," Webb said. "It’s actually harming them by getting them used to relying on people for their food.”

4. Pet waste must go

Wild animals leave droppings, so surely it's OK to leave dog waste, right? Wrong.

“(Dog waste) could also potentially harm the wildlife," Webb said. "Dogs carry diseases.”

Bring bags to clean up after your dog. No hiker wants to see (or smell) dog waste while trying to enjoy the natural beauty outdoors.

5. Know the fire rules

During summer, fire restrictions are often in effect to reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires.

“Just one spark could set off a wildfire,” Webb said.

The Phoenix parks department began its summer fire ban on May 8 and it's expected to last until Oct. 15. That means no campfires of any kind are allowed. The only exception is propane grills, which are allowed in established picnic areas.

Check for fire restrictions on the Arizona Interagency Wildfire Prevention website.

6. Don't take souvenirs

The desert isn't a free gift shop. Plants, animals, rocks and artifacts belong right where they are. In fact, taking certain plants is illegal.

“Don’t be picking flowers or anything like that," Webb said. "In the city of Phoenix, that’s actually considered vandalism to damage any of the flora or fauna.”

Going off trail in search of goodies or collectibles can also be harmful even if you don't find anything. Unauthorized trails can be created this way, which can erode the landscape.

“We just have to recognize that we need to tread more lightly on our natural places in order to enable them to survive over the long haul," Bernstein said.

7. Guilt trip yourself

Seriously. If you leave trash out there, who picks it up? It certainly isn't park rangers, who aren't garbage collectors.

Often, other hikers pick up after careless visitors.

“Fortunately we have a lot of visitors that recognize it as being disrespectful. A lot of our regular hikers will go in and clean up after the other disrespectful people," Webb said. "If it wasn’t for the good Samaritans out there, some of this stuff might be out there forever.”

This article originally appeared in The Arizona Republic.