Camping Goes Green
BY: Rachel Bertsche
Camping, by its very nature, will bring you closer to the earth. It’s a perfect way for you and your family to reconnect with the natural world -- and with each other! This summer, pack up for an adventure in the great outdoors. But before you pitch your tent, keep these tips in mind to make your camping expedition as exciting -- and eco-friendly -- as ever.
Include Kids in the Planning
Your trip doesn’t begin when you arrive at your campsite; it starts at home, when you’re scoping out your destination and planning potential hikes.
“If you have kids that are maybe 9 or older, engage them in the research surrounding the trip and let them help make some of the camping choices,” suggests Seth Shteir, the California Desert Field Representative for the National Parks Conservation Association. You can check out most campsites online -- if you’re visiting a national park, Shteir recommends the U.S. National Park Service website -- to figure out what most excites your kids about your upcoming adventure.
“It might help get your kids enthusiastic about the trip and teach them to plan their own trips in the future,” says Shteir. “Because the most green thing you can do when it comes to camping is to keep coming back.”
Check out the Visitor’s Center
Once you reach your destination, take advantage of activities organized by the campsite or led by the park ranger. These programs are often designed with families and the environment in mind. “See what educational opportunities are available,” says Shteir. “Many parks have junior ranger programs too.”
Don’t let your ambitious goals -- hiking the toughest trail or canoeing the rockiest rapids -- overshadow your children’s abilities. “The kids may be happy exploring a shorter trail, sitting by a burbling brook, relaxing beneath the shade of a pine tree or looking at butterflies in a mountain meadow,” says Shteir.
“When you engage your kids on their interest level, you’re fostering stewardship in future generations,” he says. “Your kids, if they have a good time, will want to come back, and someday they’ll be advocates for camping and they’ll be people who protect these special places.”
Embrace the Life of Leisure
Save computers and packed schedules for the rest of the year. While you’re out in the wilderness, let go of the urge to detail the itinerary.
“The outdoors is unique in that you learn to entertain yourself with the things around you. Rather than bringing too many toys, let your kids enjoy stirring a mud puddle, looking for birds with binoculars or going fishing,” says Shteir. “In the U.S., we have some wonderful technological tools that can help us learn about the world -- computers, cell phones -- and yet stewardship is built high around the campfire or staring up at the starry night sky. Technology is important, but it doesn’t create appreciation and respect for the natural world.”
Practice “Leave No Trace” Principles
When you leave a campsite, it should be in the same condition as it was when you arrived. Don’t take souvenirs -- and don’t leave any, either. “Take only pictures, leave only footprints,” says Shteir. “And yes, that includes apple cores and toilet paper.”
Parks and campsites host millions of visitors every summer. If each camper took a piece of nature home, or left a remnant of his visit, sites would take a huge hit to their resources. “It’s an important lesson, and one that resonates with kids. You’re not only thinking about yourself and your trip; you’re thinking about other people and their camping experience,” says Shteir. “That’s the beginning of empathy and thinking about a bigger world.”
Write Your Congressman
If your family had a great trip and you want to see the land there protected, let your local government know. Also encourage kids to contact their state representatives when you get back from your adventure. It’s an easy way to make your voice heard.
“Our national parks are places of remarkable biodiversity, outstanding recreational opportunities and fascinating historical and archeological information,” says Shteir. “And yet these places desperately need funding for maintenance through future generations.”
When kids participate in protecting the land, they’ll feel invested in its future. And that’s as green as you can get!