Leave No Trace in The Natural State

Editor’s Note: The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a national organization that protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly. The Center delivers education and research to millions of American each year.

“Arkansas is known endearingly as ‘The Natural State.’ This nickname gives visitors a certain expectation for what they’ll discover and experience here: abundant wildlife, protected watersheds, unmarred vistas, and healthy ecosystems.

"As the resident stewards of The Natural State, we must manage our natural resources wisely and responsibly on behalf of those who will inherit them from us.”

Lauren Ray, Park Ranger, Buffalo National River

As a photographer, I see the need to keep our resources as clean and photogenic as possible. So, rather than Photoshop litter out of the photo I will actually remove it from the scene and dispose of it properly. This spurred my interest in Leave No Trace (LNT) practices and the pursuit of LNT certification at Steele Creek on the iconic Buffalo National River. We all own a part of the wilderness and we know Arkansas has beauty of immeasurable value, so LNT keeps our nature clean, enjoyable, and protected. If you practice these concepts, you too can be an authority and take stewardship of the woods. Feel free to include #LeaveNoTrace and #KeepArkansasBeautiful in your social posts to spread awareness.

Mount Magazine State Park
Triple Falls at Kyle's Landing

Litter is the number one contributor and threat to Arkansas’s natural experiences and resources. It also permeates every level of LNT principles. Mark Camp, Director of Keep Arkansas Beautiful, says, “Littering is carelessness. People don’t think about flicking a cigarette out a window or tossing it on the ground. If you take it in you should take it out. We need to be conscious and littering is illegal.”

In fiscal year 2018, Keep Arkansas Beautiful (KAB) had 13,000 volunteers working 83,000 hours to pick up 288,000 pounds of litter and 7.7 million pounds of bulky waste over 1,842 miles of Arkansas roadways during 381 clean up events. Cigarette butts alone, according to Keep America Beautiful, account for 38% of all collected litter—77% of individuals polled do not even think of them as litter1. They also can take up to 10 years to decompose and account for an estimated 1.69 Billion pounds of waste globally each year2. Littering—even just a cigarette butt—can carry a fine of up to $1,000 and one year of imprisonment.

The human impact on the environment certainly goes beyond a single piece of trash. Trampled vegetation, animal endangerment, polluted water ecosystems, vandalization, contamination, and carvings all contribute to the damage of preserved areas. Millions of acres in the wild lands on Earth will burn unintentionally this year.

Litter at Steel Creek on the Buffalo National River
Keep Arkansas Beautiful Cleanup Day

So, to help you be proactive and aware, here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace, with examples to follow:

Plan ahead and prepare – Know local regulations, bring a map, travel in small groups, check the weather, bring ample water and food. Bring a mini-shovel and some sort of bag for your trash. Go ahead and take the granola bars out of the box before you hit the trail.

Travel on durable surfaces – Stay on the trail and use the middle of the path. Do not make new paths and avoid using known short-cuts. Most paths are blazed and marked.

Dispose of waste properly – This one has two parts. First, everyone must use the bathroom and in this case the best way is to dig a cat-hole and bury your waste. Dig this 6-8 inch deep hole 200 feet away from water sources and from known paths—yes, you will have to go off trail a little here and it is acceptable for this reason. Your mini-shovel should only touch dirt and backfill the cat-hole. Second, carry all of your trash out. Bonus points for packing out trash that you find! Do not burn your trash. Also, it is against the law to litter.

Leave what you find – Preserve the past by not taking flowers, rocks, sticks, or animals. Resist this temptation to remove anything except for trash that wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place. Take only pictures and leave only footprints.

Minimize campfires – Use fire rings and keep the fire small. Do not bring firewood in and use small tree limbs that are already down and dry. Consider using a portable stove, as it eliminates the need for a camp fire. Do not burn your cans or plastic as they will emit harmful fumes and not burn fully, resulting in litter.

Respect wildlife – It is against the law to harass wildlife. Keep your distance, use binoculars, and do not feed wildlife. If you see an animal in trouble, contact a certified local employee of the area, such as a ranger, and they will act and appreciate the fact that you minimized your interaction with the animal. Store food in bear-safe methods.

Be considerate of others – Yield to one another, pass on your left, stop for horses even if you are on a bike, take breaks on durable surfaces away from the trail, manage your pet, respect private property, and let nature’s sounds prevail.

Leave No Trace began as a method for people to minimize their impact in the outdoors. We all spend time outside, so we must take care of it as best as we possibly can so that others might naturally enjoy it as well. Kane Webb, executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, says, “The Natural State is sold on being gorgeous and largely unmarred and to trash it ourselves is remarkably foolish.”

We can all make a difference. And it starts by making a quiet promise to yourself not to litter. Thank you for doing your part to Keep Arkansas Beautiful and keep our state as photogenic as possible.

For more information



All LNT Principles are available at www.lnt.org and are from the author’s written notes from a training course given by Lauren Ray of the National Park Service in September 2018.


1 https://no-smoke.org/cigarette-butt-waste-litter

2 https://www.kab.org/cigarette-litter-prevention/problem-and-facts

Casey Crocker at Leave No Trace Training