Saturday, March 13, 2021

Living ‘leave no trace’ principles mean speaking up in the moment

Brandon Wiltse photo

By Tyler Merriam, Donor Outreach Associate, Ausable River Association

Most of us recognize that throwing orange peels on the trail and leaving toilet paper on the ground does not leave the Adirondack ecosystem in its natural state. But how do we communicate that to less experienced outdoor recreationists? The answer, I believe, is to help people understand how their actions affect the areas they care about. The next time you’re hiking that special trail or paddling that glassy pond and see someone do something less than ideal, put your anger aside and give that person the benefit of the doubt. Remind them what a beautiful resource we have here and how lucky we all are to experience it together. Then, as a fellow recreationist, share with them the lessons you’ve learned over the years to keep this resource from being loved to death. Once outdoor enthusiasts develop their own land ethics, they’re far more likely to pass them along to friends, family, and the next generation of Adirondack stewards.

These conversations don’t always go as planned, and people are not always receptive. But there are small victories. My own came late this summer, when I was sitting on a picturesque mountaintop. I overheard a couple of hikers chatting about this year’s prolific chipmunk population and how much they enjoyed seeing these cute critters scampering around. One hiker was munching an orange and, when he was done, proceeded to throw the peel off the edge of a small overlook into the forest below. I mentioned how much I, too, enjoyed seeing so many chipmunks this summer, even if some gardeners were less than thrilled. I then said, “For what it’s worth, an orange peel can take up to two years to decompose on the forest floor. I’m not sure if chipmunks would eat an orange peel, but I imagine some other animal would, and here in the Adirondacks it’s likely not in their natural diet. I used to do the same thing but don’t want to anger the chipmunk gods anymore.” Corny? Yes. But he laughed, and his subsequent response stuck with me: “That’d be the worst. But hey, good point. I’d never thought about animals eating my food scraps.” He left it at that. Did he climb down and pick up his orange peel? No. Ideally, he gives it more thought next time and passes along that knowledge to another hiker. Hopefully, by spreading our own land ethics in kindness, we will inspire others to be responsible stewards of our wild places.

This is an excerpt of an essay titled “Living a Land Ethic,” written by Tyler Merriam, AsRA’s Donor Outreach Associate. CLICK HERE to access the full essay on AsRA’s website. Tyler is a Leave No Trace Master Educator and Licensed New York State Guide. Story adapted from Ausable River Association’s 2020 Fall/Winter Newsletter, “Voice of the River.” Photo courtesy of Brandon Wiltse.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

6 Responses

  1. Tom B says:

    Good comment and probably good advice for dealing with many other contentious conversations that can occur besides outdoors. It is hard to not just want to be confrontational, but that almost is never helpful.

  2. Adkfunpolice says:

    A great article and valuable reminder for all of us who enjoy the park to do our part to keep it pristine.

  3. Ajay says:

    More stories on what’s appropriate and what’s not could be helpful. It may seem obvious but I’ll be honest and say I wouldn’t know that leaving behind an orange peel is bad. Orange peels are biodegradable after all and are something that gets composted. Just a thought.

    • Boreas says:


      If you pack it in, pack it out. It is that simple.

      Orange peels, partially eaten apples, half a snickers bar, salted peanut shells – while all are biodegradable, all are still food for animals – food that attracts them to humans. Bears and other animals would love us to leave our food scraps behind. Then they get shot for habituating where they can get scraps. And who wants to see food scraps littered beside the trail? There is a good reason for regulations against littering garbage.

      • Brent says:

        What barbarian would leave behind half a snickers bar!? That’s wrong on a whole nother lever! 🙂

  4. Brian H Merriam says:

    Tyler, you are spot on. You have helped change my practices over the years and I appreciate the kind and winsome way in which you address people on this important matter. The ADKs are blessed to have someone of your knowledge and giftings in our community.