Like You Were Never There

Summer leaves in less than a week. This is the actual end of the season. The Box Butte County Fair has always seemed like the signal summer is beginning to wind down. Students returning to class often see the first day of class as the finish with hot weather and heat schedule a guarantee before autumn. The last hurrah, and official American holiday, however, is Labor Day.

Picnics and labor unions representing the blue collar worker are an enduring part of the day, especially for state and national candidates during election season. Many people are able to enjoy a three-day weekend to celebrate. The extra time off may include a picnic, time at the lake, camping or just a well-deserved time to relax. Whatever you did for the occasion earlier this month it is easy to keep it clean by picking up trash and recycling.

Whether keeping our community free of litter or taking the time to do the same while traveling the effort is appreciated. I went on a family hike on Labor Day. We chose the Pole Mountain area between Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming. The Summit Trailhead is accessible at the Interstate 80 rest stop with a bust of President Lincoln. At 8,500 feet elevation one advantage was the weather was about 10 degrees cooler than the 90s and sunshine at home.

There were plenty of people on the trail -- a few hikers and a few more mountain bikers, most with dogs following off leash. Compared to popular trails in the Black Hills in South Dakota and Colorado’s Front Range the area was far from crowded. Everyone we encountered was courteous as we moved over for the speedier travelers.

I have found more solitude on average visiting Wyoming than other surrounding states while hiking regularly over the past two decades.The trails have been near pristine in most cases. A litter-free trail, of course, is not a given. A piece of energy bar wrapper may have slipped from a pocket or backpack, for example. For every hiker, cyclist or horseback rider who litters, intentionally or not, there is somebody who picks up even the smallest bit of trash. On that recent Monday I did notice a small “doggie bag” as the only trash on the figure-eight route we took. Not bad for about three miles through the forest.

I grew to love camping and hiking as a Boy Scout. Our Alliance troop planned an outing once a month. For most of my time in the troop we camped, even in the winter, except for a few day outings. It was easy to bag a couple dozen days sleeping in a tent. We traveled to Fort Robinson to re-plant trees and Bridgeport State Recreation Area (The Pits) to canoe at the end of summer as two of our favorite destinations. Winter meant a competition with other area troops, snow or not, at the Klondike Derby.

Something I learned as a youth and later emphasized as an adult leader was the Scout Law. The 11th point of the 12-point law is “a Scout is Clean.” Part of that was promoting a clean environment. We “policed the area,” as the last activity before leaving any campsite. That practice meant lining up an arms’ length apart and slowly walking the area looking for litter. Some of it we left behind.Other trash, often the majority of what we found, had been there long before we arrived. As an assistant one Scoutmaster I served with would hide a dollar for the kids to find as an incentive. It felt good to leave a place “better than we found it.”

Taking care of your neighborhood and the larger world in general was communicated in several ways. The Environmental Science merit badge brought an appreciation of nature through hours of observations and a paper we wrote on what we saw. We learned about conservation and active stewardship by working on specific projects and earning SOAR patches as a bonus. Twenty years planting trees at Fort Rob showed how thousands of Scouts can make a difference that our children can now see in the landscape.

A key practice everyone was taught as we grew older and set an example for the younger boys came through the practice of Leave No Trace -- outdoor ethics. The emphasis was to only leave footprints and if anything, take only photographs, and memories of course, while in the outdoors. Guidelines covered how to hike on a trail, such as not taking shortcuts, and off trail. Regarding trash, Scouts were expected to pack out what they brought into the wilderness. Some components of the practice listed in the BSA Fieldbook include: Plan Ahead and Prepare, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces and Dispose of Waste Properly. Leave No Trace makes the individual acutely aware of the environment and how to have a minimal impact through responsible behavior.

I still look to no trace principles on family campouts and hiking trips. That way on Labor Day weekend, or any other time, I hope the next person will give no thought to the previous person to share the space. If anything, I like to leave some extra firewood or do something else small to make their stay more enjoyable.