Maryland State Parks have surpassed visitation records the past two years, and 2021 is on track to meet or exceed these unprecedented numbers. Although visitation to Maryland’s parks is traditionally heavy in spring, numbers ramp up even more significantly during the Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kickoff to the summer season.
While the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is pleased that more people are getting into nature and discovering our 75 beautiful State Parks — many for the first time — this trend has brought with it some significant challenges. The sheer number of visitors, compounded with many newcomers inexperienced with outdoor, resource-based recreation has led to substantial increases in litter, trail damage, parking issues, user conflicts, and other resource impacts.
“It is wonderful that so many visitors are enjoying our State Parks, but we also need to be vigilant about protecting the very resources people are coming to enjoy,” Maryland Park Service Superintendent Nita Settina said. “That’s why we are raising awareness about the simple, but important ways visitors can help keep their parks green and clean.”
Through a longstanding partnership with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics Inc. the Maryland Park Service will be educating visitors about several simple principles that will help them make responsible decisions to better minimize their impact, while maximizing their outdoor recreational experience.
The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace are:
Principle #1 — Know Before You Go. Before you visit, you should plan ahead and prepare for any special considerations or regulations that might restrict your activities in a particular park or area. Check the website of the park you are visiting for up-to-the minute information. Proper preparation is the most important first step to minimize your impact.
Principle #2 —Stick to Trails and Camp Overnight Right. Maryland public lands feature more than 1,000 miles of trails. We ask all hikers, bikers, and equestrians to stay on these designated trails for their own safety and to protect trailside plants. Campers should camp only on existing or designated campsites to avoid damaging vegetation and keep their camping equipment on the provided camp pad.
Principle #3 — Trash Your Trash. More than 25 years ago, in an effort to reduce the amount of trash and unsightly receptacles, Maryland State Parks removed their trash receptacles and began asking visitors to “pack it in and pack it out,” or take their trash with them. We ask that when you do not see trash receptacles, please take your trash with you.
Principle #4 — Leave What You Find. Maryland’s parks are full of beautiful natural wonders and significant historical resources. These natural and cultural resources should be protected for everyone to see and appreciate. Leave plants, rocks and historical items as you find them so others can enjoy them. Treat living plants with respect. Carving, hacking, or peeling plants and trees may open them up to infection or kill them.
Principle #5 — Be Careful with Fire. A campfire is a great part of any outdoor experience but it’s also potentially the most dangerous. Use a camp stove for cooking. Stoves are easier to cook on and create less impact than a fire. If you want to have a campfire, be sure it’s permitted and safe to build a fire in the area you’re visiting. Use only the existing fire rings to protect the ground from heat and keep your fire small.
Principle #6 — Keep Wildlife Wild. One of the greatest thrills of outdoor adventures is to see a variety of wild animals most people would not normally see close to home. However, remember that this is their home, and we are only guests. Observe wildlife from a distance and never approach, feed, or follow them.
Principle #7 — Be Considerate of Other Visitors. With an ever-growing number of people seeking healthy outdoor activities, it becomes even more important that visitors respect each other and give each other the space to enjoy the resources in their own way. Be sure the fun you have outdoors does not bother anyone else.
As more and more people discover the benefits of outdoor activity and the great opportunities that visiting parks and open space can bring, it is important that everyone does their part to help protect these wonderful resources. These outdoor ethics will help people make the best and smartest decisions to minimize their impact and make sure these beautiful places remain safe and protected for generations to come.