Leave No Trace Principles for Kids to Parks Day & Family Outdoor Fun

Kids to Parks Day - Leave No Trace

Photo by @jrrangertigran for @nationalparktrust on Instagram

Ready for Kids to Parks Day and family summer fun outside? Your outdoor-loving family can be a champion of the seven Leave No Trace principles and make nature a better place for everyone. Kids to Parks Day is on May 21st in the United States and it’s a great opportunity to get out with your family and enjoy a local park. There will be loads of family events and if you register on the website, you will be automatically entered to win some pretty cool prizes. I’m also hosting a giveaway on FrogMom. You can find all the details below. That’s motivating, right? But hold on, not so quick. Your park experience will be a much better one with the Leave No Trace principles and I’ll explain them here. Once you’ve got the hang of them, your kids will be amazing stewards of nature and our blue planet will count more advocates than ever before. Imagine a world without plastic bags in our oceans or forests. Isn’t that a world worth looking forward to?

What is Leave No Trace?

Kids to Parks - Leave No Trace Trash

Photo by @jrrangertigran for @nationalparktrust on Instagram

It’s basically just that–leaving no trace during or after any of your family activities outside. Whether it’s hiking, camping, swimming or picnicking, it should seem like you haven’t been there. Think like a tiny insect and you’re close. It’s probably fair to say that Leave No Trace is one of the reasons so many people visit national parks. Who would marvel at bears roaming California’s Yosemite Valley looking for leftover picnic food? Or Wyoming’s Yellowstone geysers with graffitis on boardwalks? Or Florida’s Everglades with floating styrofoam cups in the water? Yuck to all that! It’s nobody’s idea of what beautiful nature looks like and why kids need to learn Leave No Trace as basic outdoor skills.

Leave No Trace Principles for Kids

 #1 Know Before You Go

What do you know about the place you are going to visit? If you go online or call the park ahead of your visit, you’ll be able to find out about the regulations for the park’s use. The Kids to Parks Day website has a list of resources by state, lists of adventure activities for outside and the best park adventure apps.

#2 Choose the Right Path

If you see areas with established campsites and trails, use them. It’s when people go off trail or bushwhack that damage to land occurs because they might notice that they are trampling vegetation or communities of organisms beyond recovery.

#3 Trash Your Trash

Pack it in, Pack it out! Have you heard this before? It means that you need to bring home (or dispose of, in waste disposal areas) everything that you bring with you outside. Food packaging? Check. Wipes? Check. Human poo and pee? There’s rules for that too. Catholes 6 to 8 inches deep in humus and 200 feet from water, trails, and campsites are often the easiest and most practical way to dispose of feces.

Leave No Trace Principles for Kids to Parks Day

Photo by National Park Trust

#4 Leave What You Find

Wildflower bouquets or rock collections are tempting in parks but an absolute no-no. What if everybody did like you? National parks are visited by millions of people every year. Imagine the disaster. However, taking pictures, creating a sketch map, writing poems and nature journaling are fantastic ways to remember a day out. In case you are wondering, Leave What You Find applies to digging holes, building forts or collecting plants.

#5 Be Careful with Fire

For many families, camping means a campfire but sometimes, campfires threaten natural environments.

  • Lightweight camp stoves are great solutions to prepare your meals quickly.
  • After dinner, candle lanterns can replace fires for that “camping under the stars” atmosphere.
  • If you do build a fire, make sure that you learn everything about low-impact Leave No Trace fires.

#6 Respect Wildlife

Who doesn’t love cute squirrels or sea otters in their natural environment? Are bisons and mooses on the road not the best summer pics? To make sure that you keep seeing these animals, you must learn how to keep them happy and comfortable.

  • Observe wildlife from afar to avoid disturbing them.
  • Give animals a wide berth, especially during breeding, nesting, and birthing seasons.
  • Never feed wildlife. Store food securely and keep garbage and food scraps away from animals so they will not acquire bad habits.
  • You are too close if an animal alters its normal activities.

#7 Be Kind to Other Visitors

The sound of chirping birds, swooshing wind or rushing water are natural sounds in the great outdoors–not radios, amplified electronics or excited pets. To enjoy the best park experience possible, everybody should respect (and be kind to) other visitors. That way, you’ll be able to enjoy the real sounds of nature on your next visit.

National Park Service Centennial

After Kids to Parks Day, National Park Trust (NPT) will be celebrating the Centennial of the National Park Service on August 25. NPT’s youth programs were selected as a National Park Service Centennial Challenge Project in honor of the 2016 National Park Service Centennial year. The National Park Service selected  NPT for a one-to-one match of $450,000 that will result in a total of $900,000 specifically designated for the expansion of their school programs (Buddy Bison Environmental Education Program and Kids to Parks Day National School Contest). 

The Centennial Challenge will allow NPT to be able to work with up to 60 Title 1 schools to provide multiple park experiences — at least one to a national park unit — throughout the school year, plus classroom toolkits full of resources and so much more! $10 provides bus transportation for one child for one park trip. There are more than 400 national park units across the country!

NPT is the nation’s only 501(c) non-profit dedicated to supporting America’s parks through both land acquisition/preservation and youth education programs/initiatives that connect children with their local, state and national parks. Read more about NPT’s youth programs here: 

http://www.parktrust.org/youthprograms/buddy-bison

Giveaway (U.S. Residents)

Leave a comment below about your plans to visit a National Park and you could win a Buddy Bison stuffed animal and two books (Kid’s National Parks Guide and Buddy Bison’s Yellowstone Adventure) to accompany you and your children on your trip!   This set of books values at $25 and is a great way to make life-literacy connections. Winners will be chosen at random by May 21, 2016.  This giveaway is sponsored by The National Parks Trust and Kids to Parks Day.

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Laure Latham

Laure is an author, environmental advocate, blogger, open water swimmer and now mother. She's passionate about inspiring families to enjoy the outdoors with their children, learning to unplug and living a healthy lifestyle, giving kids life skills and exploring the world around us sharing Family Friendly, Fun Ideas for the whole family on Frog Mom.

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