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Growing up in Girl Scouts, a popular refrain was “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” That is the essence of Leave No Trace.

As we travel the Parkway, we all have the option to make it a better place. We do this by being aware of our impact on the landscape and to other visitors. This way, everyone has an enjoyable experience on the Parkway.

On a recent visit to Graveyard Fields and Black Balsam in the Pisgah District, the parking lots were overflowing and cars were literally parked in the road, so that the two lane roads were only passable by one vehicle at a time. It was not a positive visitor experience. The very next week, we received a call from a visitor who reported a similar situation at the Linn Cove Viaduct near Blowing Rock.

Let’s take a quick look at 7 ways that we can ensure an excellent visitor experience on the Blue Ridge Parkway for all of us:

Plan Ahead & Prepare

  • Bring a map, don’t just trust your GPS (they sometimes lie!).
  • Learn about the area- know what’s open and what the current regulations are.
  • Choose lesser-known areas and off-peak travel times (weekdays & off season have lots fewer visitors!) and have a back-up plan in case your destination is closed or already full.
  • Bring appropriate clothing for the weather.

Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Stay on the trail- don’t take shortcuts as that kills plants, leads to erosion and it doesn’t look pretty.
  • If overnight camping, use permitted campsites that already show use so you are not creating a new area of use.
  • Park on durable surfaces, too.

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Please take all your trash with you off of the Parkway, including any doggie waste. Garbage pickup is limited in some areas and overflowing trash cans produce nuisance wildlife.
  • If camping or hiking, use the restroom appropriately and don’t leave toilet paper behind.
  • Even better- pick up some trash and leave the area cleaner than you found it!

Leave What You Find

  • Leave natural items like fossils and flowers for others to appreciate (this is required on federal lands).
  • To prevent the spread of invasive species, don’t transport plants, flowers or wood.
  • Refrain from leaving your mark on trees, benches, rocks or other structures.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • If a campfire is allowed at your overnight destination, use wood that is dead and on the ground or bring in heat-treated wood that is certified to be free of invasive insects.
  • Make sure that your fire is completely cool to the touch before leaving- many wildfires begin from abandoned campfires.
  • Use a camp stove rather than cooking over a fire.

Respect Wildlife

  • View wildlife from a distance that doesn’t cause them to change their behavior.
  • Don’t feed wildlife; it is bad for their health and safety, as well as ours.
  • Keep your food and trash secure so wildlife can’t access it (in some areas while camping, a bear canister is required for food storage).

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Make space on the trail so that others can pass you; hikers walking uphill should have the right of way.
  • Be courteous about your parking at trailheads and overlooks- leave space for others and stay off the road.
  • Keep your noise level down so others can enjoy their surroundings, too.
  • If you are on a bicycle or other slow moving vehicle, pull over at an overlook to allow other drivers to pass.

If we all practice these simple tips, we can enjoy the road and trail and protect the landscape for generations of visitors yet to come.

North Carolina’s Make It Your Nature campaign offers a slightly different version of these 7 principles.