Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Teach kids to minimize damage to their surroundings on hike

Teach children to respect objects, such as archeological
sites, found on their hike.
When in the wilds, follow the maxim of “Leave no trace.” Obviously, you shouldn’t toss litter on the ground, start rockslides, or pollute water supplies. How much is damage and how much is good-natured exploring is a gray area, of course. Most serious backpackers will say you should never pick up objects, break branches, throw rocks, pick flowers, and so on – the idea is not to disturb the environment at all. Good luck getting a four-year-old to think like that. The good news is a four-year-old won’t be able to throw around many rocks or break many branches.

Children from the beginning should be taught to respect nature and to not destroy their environment. While you might overlook a preschooler hurling rocks into a puddle, they can be taught to sniff rather than pick flowers. As they grow older, you can teach them the value of leaving the rock alone. Regardless of age, don’t allow children to write on boulders or carve into trees.

Many hikers split over picking berries. To strictly abide by the “minimize damage” principle, you wouldn’t pick any berries at all. Kids, however, are likely to find great pleasure in eating blackberries, currants, and thimbleberries as ambling down the trail. Personally, I don’t see any probably enjoying a few berries if the long-term payoff is a respect and love for nature. To minimize damage, teach them to only pick berries they can reach from the trail so they don’t trample plants or deplete food supplies for animals. They also should only pick what they’ll eat. Collecting is another issue. In national and most state and county parks, taking rocks, flower blossoms and even pine cones is illegal. Picking flowers moves many species, especially if they are rare and native, one step closer to extinction. Archeological ruins are extremely fragile, and even touching them can damage a site.

But on many trails, especially gem trails, collecting is part of the adventure. Use common sense – if the point of the trail is to find materials to collect, such as a gem trail, take judiciously, meaning don’t overcollect. Otherwise, leave it there.

Sometimes the trail crosses private property. If so, walking around fields, not through them, always is best or you could damage a farmer’s crops.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.