This activity will take about 75 minutes.
After participating in this activity plan, which is designed to help participants learn about backcountry travel, participants will be able to
Alternative setting: A sandlot playground can serve as a "life-sized" backcountry if preferred. Prepare the sand with a rake or other tool to create your featureless landscape. The trick is to make the area smooth enough so that participants can see the effects of their travel. Swing sets and other playground equipment can serve as "rocks" and other natural features.
Your group is going to build an imaginary backcountry setting. The backcountry landscape created will stimulate participants' curiosity and interest; they will actually see their "footsteps" on the landscape. Presenting this activity in a fun and interesting way is crucial to its success.
Have everyone gather around the prepared box of sand or soil. Using the cutouts, pebbles, rocks, and other objects, have the participants create a backcountry world into which they will enter on an imaginary hiking trip. Your backcountry world should include a "stream" or "river," "trees," a "meadow," and at least one "flat, rocky area." Designate a point at one end of the box as the "starting point" and a point at the other end of the box as the "final destination."
1. Have participants decide as a group where to locate a narrow "hiking trail" leading from the starting point to the final destination. Tell them they must include a short section of zigzags (switchbacks). Have one person use two fingers to draw the trail in the sand.
2. Present the following scenario: Imagine the group is planning a trip through its backcountry landscape. The trail and destination are visited yearly by many hikers and campers. The goal of the group is to leave as little trace as possible while traveling from the starting point to the final destination. Each participant should indicate the route he or she would take by letting the "fingers do the walking" in the moist sand. Instruct the group to identify one spot for a break along the way. Let each person indicate a path before discussion.
A close review of the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace is needed to effectively lead discussion. Ask participants the following questions.
Why did you choose the route you did? Most people will choose to stay on the trail. The discussion should focus on choosing a route that will protect the land and help prevent new trails from beginning.
Why do land managers build hiking trails for backcountry visitors? Constructed trails concentrate hiker activity and help prevent informal trailswhich increase the impact on vegetation and may cause soil erosionfrom forming.
Where should the group stop for breaks? Taking breaks off-trail can help preserve solitude for others; however, always take breaks on durable surfaces. Move to gravel or flat rocks if such surfaces can be found without disturbing soil or vegetation and preferably out of sight off the trail to allow others to pass without impacting their experience.
How noisy were participants during their hike? A little chatter is a part of hiking and can reduce the risk of bear encounters in bear country. However, screaming, radios, singing, and other loud noises upset the outdoor experience of all visitors and may disturb wildlife.
Summarize these key points:
1. Use a wide paintbrush or your hand to erase the trail from your back- country landscape.
2. Present your group with a new scenario: Imagine the group is planning a trip through a new area rarely visited by hikers and campersit has no trail leading to the destination. The group's goal is to reach the destination while leaving as little evidence of its passing as possible. How should group members travel to their destination? Again, each participant should indicate a route by letting his or her "fingers do the walking" in the moist sand. Let each participant indicate a path before discussion.
A close review of the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace is needed to effectively lead discussion.
Why did you choose the route that you did? Traveling off-trail will present group members with difficult decisions. It is important to help people develop critical thinking skills by weighing the effects of alternative off-trail choices. Should they spread out or walk in the same path?
Would your choice differ if this were a desert environment? Forested environment? Generally, spreading out will be the best choice, but this may be inappropriate in some desert environments. Avoid sensitive riparian areas. Refer to the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace for details.
Where should the group stop for breaks? Find durable surfaces such as large rocks, sand, or gravel when stopping for breaks.
Summarize key points with participants.
Your campers have explored travel methods that help preserve the naturalness of the outdoors for wildlife and visitors. How well have they learned to walk softly on the land? Ask them:
Imagine that each person travels at random, some walking along the banks of the stream (fragile area), some traveling through the trees, and some taking shortcuts up steep banks (erosion). How might this random method of route selection affect each scenario?
Small groups reduce the likelihood that an unsightly web of new footprints will be created. Ask participants the following:
Ask each person to describe one backcountry travel idea he or she will promise to use when traveling the outdoorsor even in the city.
Congratulations on conducting a well-prepared meeting for your group!
Teaching Leave No Trace