Outdoor Ethics


Over the years Chris and I have experienced a variety of wild places, some remote and others in the frontcountry. While for the most part we encounter lovely places that are in generally good condition, we often come across places that are wretchedly trashed or abused in some manner.

For New Years weekend we went to Enchanted Rock, one of the most visited state parks in Texas. To add to the crowdedness we of course went on a holiday weekend. The place was crawling with people, most heading to the summit of Enchanted Rock, but others bouncing around Little Rock and some of the other subsidiary rocks nearby. Several ‘backcountry’ campsites are also within the park, all within three miles of a parking lot. These had high use as well though not all of the car camping sites were full.

The first part of our dismay was finding our campsite in a food mess. The picnic table had remanants of that morning’s breakfast still on the table and on the concrete beneath it. In the vegetation to the side were orange peels and egg shells. It was pretty disgusting.

In the backcountry woods, or on trails far a parking lot or camping site, I am all for throwing a banana peel or orange peel off into the woods, though I know more hard-core Leave No Trace people would say otherwise. But in a campground? With a trash can less than 100 yards away? More than ridiculous. We rinsed the table off but I was grossed out all weekend.

An eroded tent pad was set somewhat in the middle of the campsite and we set up our large car camping tent in the middle of a path that led from our campsite to another directly behind us, closer to Little Rock. We thought this would deter folks from using the path as a cut-through. That worked for awhile until the next day when I was sitting at the table eating lunch and Chris was in the tent taking nap. Two men came with a gaggle of children down the path from the distance, turned and then proceeded to walk up to our campsite. They didn’t even attempt to turn around and say ‘oops’, or go around, nor did they stop and ask permission or say they were sorry for using our campsite as their trail to the rocks behind us. Nope they just kept on going, walking between the picnic table, the fire ring and our tent. In the middle of our campsite. Do you walk through someone’s home to get to what is behind their backyard? No. Why would you do that at a campsite? I understand the need to get to the rocks behind the campsite, but there’s a multitude of other paths that lead to it without having to access a campsite.

That didn’t happen once, no it happened yet again with another smaller group, and then another group did it to our campsite neighbors. What the heck, people? Is this just a general rudeness that has seeped through society?

Perhaps our visits to backcountry campsites and less popular campgrounds has spoiled us, and staying a top-visited Texas state park has brought that to our attention. Those other camping areas are nice and quiet! Yeah, we may whine a bit in the winter if we’re in the tent earlier than everyone else but at least most people pipe down at a decent hour. Both nights at Enchanted Rock, and one night can be forgiven because it was New Years Eve, our neighbors stayed up to unearthly hours. The first night it had to be at least 4am before they went to bed. There are quiet hours for a reason! Respect them. If you want to talk, do it more quietly than your normal talking voice. And for crying out loud, do not play your radio!

Out away from the campground we encountered some mild trash on the rock areas, a water bottle tucked underneath a boulder, pieces of litter here and there. It wasn’t terribly bad, but bad enough to roll your eyes and wonder what people were thinking. They weren’t.

Some of this I should have spoken up and said something, particularly the first time someone cut through our campsite. I was grumbling too much at the time and was worried I’d snap something nasty in front of the kids so I kept my mouth shut. But, I should have said something in an effort to teach the kids the right and wrong of camping ethics. Maybe next time dad walked through a campsite one of them would have reminded him not to do that.

So, what do you need to know about outdoor camping ethics?

First, learn Leave No Trace ethics. I think we strive to follow most of their principles, though I will not pack out my toilet paper. I’m sorry but that is just disgusting and if you make a cathole appropriately you shouldn’t have any problems. I will pack out feminine products, though, and you should too.

Pick up after others. If you see a piece of trash on a trail, pick it up and pack it out. Educate others when you can, without being hostile about it. Actions also speak louder than words.

I did some Googling and it seems I am not the only person annoyed with campsite cut-thru’ers:
5 Ways to Ruin a Camping Trip…for Someone Else.
Virginia Outdoors
Daily Organized Chaos

Many campground webpages came up in my search and they even listed out in their guidelines that one shouldn’t cut through other’s campsites!

Camping should be fun and enjoyable for all. Think twice about what you are doing at your campsite and what effects it might have on your camping neighbors. Leave your campsite better than you found it. Educate those who may be oblivious to outdoor ethics guidelines—it is likely many don’t know these things because they don’t often visit state parks or campgrounds, particularly in high impact areas that see a lot of day visitor use.

Now, I’ll step off my soap box. Do you have any outdoor ethics stories?

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