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Camping Ethics

By: Zachary Lehmann

The Green Mountains of Vermont

The Green Mountains of Vermont

With the end of summer drawing closer it’s time to take advantage of the weather and explore the outdoors. As an avid camper, I finally convinced a few friends to venture outside the city limits and go backpacking in the Green Mountains of Vermont; an intimidating idea to a group who think of day-hikes and car-camping when the topic of backpacking comes up. While my friends were officially the “newbies” of the trip, they weren’t the only ones who learned something that weekend. Camping ethics are important guidelines for how we interact with the environment, but surprisingly, it appeared that they did not cross most people’s minds. I don’t consider myself an elitist of the backpacking world by any stretch of the imagination, but it was shocking to see how disconnected people can be from their environment, even when they are literally right in the middle of it.

Most people have heard of the “Leave No Trace” and “pack it in, pack it out” slogans, but good camping ethics go much further. Not only, do they improve the camping experience for other campers, but they can help preserve natural resources too. It’s important that we each do our part to protect our state and national parks.

Camping Ethics 101 – Some Lesser Known Guidelines

Protect Our Water

  • Most importantly, don’t wash your dishes in a natural waterway! Soaps, even “all-natural” biodegradable soaps, linger in water ways for a long time and spur algae growth, reduce water quality, and can be/are consumed by other hikers (no one wants to drink the soapy water you just used to wash your plate). Discard grey water on the ground, never directly into open water.
  • Instead of washing dishes directly in a pristine stream, river, or any body of water, use another pot to collect the water and bring it away from the waterway to wash your things. As a general rule of thumb, you should always leave between 150 and 200 feet between your campsite or wash-site and the closest body of water. This will ensure that your food particles and soap will breakdown in place at your campsite, and not infiltrate into the natural waterways.

Stay on the trail

  • Although we all like exploring off the beaten path, this can be harmful to various alpine vegetative communities that take decades to develop and are vital to our ecosystems.

Setting up camp – don’t trench your tents

  • This is one for us old-timers. Tent trenching is a way to prevent rain water from soaking the bottom of your tent. Typically you dig a small trench around the uphill side of your tent to divert surface water around your tent that would otherwise flow under it. This is rather disruptive to the local plant life and root systems around your tent, not to mention it leaves a visible impact to the soils of your campsite. Especially in the northeast, rain can cause some problems for you and your tent. However, tent technology has improved and both you and your tent can handle it, I promise.

Noise control – keep it down

  • Noise pollution can be just as disturbing as chemical pollution.  Many species of birds are also sensitive to loud sudden noises during breeding and nesting season.

Help educate each other

  • Not all campers are as educated about camping ethics as they should be. Do your part to help them understand why it’s important to follow these guidelines. Most people simply don’t know any better.
Little Rock Pond, Green Mountain National Forest

Little Rock Pond, Green Mountain National Forest

And on to my greatest camping trick yet, calzones in the woods. After a long day of hiking, it is one of the most satisfying meals you can make out of things that don’t need refrigeration!

How to make calzones in the woods:

Zak's Famous Calzone in the Woods

Zak’s Famous Calzone in the Woods

  1. Heat about one cup of water. You don’t want it to be boiling but it should be hot.
  2. Add one packet of active yeast (Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast) to the water and stir until it dissolves.
  3. Add about 2-3 cups of flower to the water and yeast. You want to keep adding flower to the mixture until it is no longer sticky before you start kneading it.
  4. Add a bit of salt and any other seasonings you happen to have in your pack (this step isn’t necessary)
  5. Ball up enough dough to fit in the bottom of your pan, skillet, or pot and flatten.
  6. Open a can of tomato paste and mix sugar packets into the paste until it is sweetened to your preference.
  7. Spread the paste onto the dough and add whatever other toppings you want. I suggest pepperoni and whatever cheeses you may have brought with you.
  8. Cook over your stove on both sides until dough is cooked through or you can’t stand the aroma of it any longer.
  9. Enjoy!

Next time you’re out camping remember we all need to do our best to protect our valuable natural resources by being aware of our waste, keeping our water bodies clean, and treating the outdoors in an ethical way.

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