Leave No Trace

As a scout in my youth we were taught to simply leave our environment better than we found it. As the years have gone on, the Leave No Trace guidelines have become more and more specific, and now the organization has publications and handy plastic cards with guidelines printed on them. Recently, a few scout "leaders" have been brough up on criminal charges after they took video of themselves as they toppled one of the Goblins in Utah. (see LA Times Story)

The whole point of Leave No Trace is currenly in opposition to everything our culture appears to value, and as such it is increasingly difficult to teach our boys. They all have aspirations of having funny videos on YouTube reach a million hits. Some of them even want to be rich and famous, and get on MTVs "Cribs" with their mansions. Our troop has less of this sort of thinking among the boys, but I hear it constantly from their peers. At the core of it, Leave No Trace now teaches that when you leave a place you should leave no evidence that you were there such that the next visitor has the same pristine experience that you did. The current state of celebrity and media in the US is essentially telling everyone that they need to leave the maximum impact possible, and make as much change as you can. Be as visible as you can.

The only bridge between these two apparent opposites is the idea I was taught: Leave everything better than you found it. Sometimes "better" requires a change, and sometimes (like I would say about the situation in Goblin Valley, UT) leaving it "better" is to not even touch things at all. The rationale  the men in Utah gave about the danger to others has a certain merit, but rather than making that irrevocable decision on their own, the "better" way is to get experts involved quickly. Perhaps marking the danger with ropes and a make-shift warning sign, and then calling in park rangers to let them make the decision would have been an appropriate "better." This would be the way I would guide the boys, and other leaders in that situation.

The difficulty we all face in life is understanding how to navigate exactly what it means to leave the world, or the situation, in a "better" state than we found it. On a hike that could be as simple as picking up trash left by others. It may include doing erosion-control on a trail. When camping it may require that we take many extra steps to set tents on hard surfaces rather than softer undergrowth, make safe fires and pack out the soot. It may even require us to intervene when others are about to knock over a thousands-of-years-old rock formation. Whatever the case, we have to learn how to balance the urge to have a positive impact, with the ideal of leaving it pristine for the next visitor.

This is no small debate in any moment when a decision needs to be made, and keeping it simple for our boys is essential. Lets try to constantly remind everyone to Leave it Better than we found it. When "better" is unclear, it's time to bring in experts.