Leave No Trace Paddling: Protect What You Enjoy
The idea of Leave No Trace hiking has become increasingly popular, but what about Leave No Trace Paddling? For good or for bad we kayakers, canoeists, and stand up paddleboarders are all stewards of the waterways on which we travel. It’s important to remember how to protect these precious resources, while not missing opportunities to get out there and enjoy that which we work so hard to conserve.
As I’m prepping for my thru-paddle of the Connecticut River, I had the good fortune of spending some time on the water with with Andy Fisk, Executive Director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council. We talked about Leave No Trace Paddling practices, relevant kayaking gear, and the many people who work to protect the river and its recreational opportunities. Let me share with you five commonly accepted Leave No Trace Paddling practices to keep in mind on your next paddling adventure.
Leave No Trace Paddling
1. Plan Ahead: Take some time to learn of safe and permissible access points for your trip. Study your intended route. Print maps and store them in a waterproof map case. Load your landing site coordinates into your waterproof GPS device. All of these ideas will prevent parking illegally, bushwhacking an unanticipated landing spot and generally misrepresenting the paddling community.
2. Dispose of Waste: Seems simple, but in practice, we forget. Aside from trash that should be carried out, we should be cognizant of our human waste, especially along waterways. Learn what’s permissible along your route. If burying is an option, carry a trowel and use it. If not, pack it out in a secure container.
3. Leave Everything Where You FInd It: Instead of bringing home a bag of souvenirs, bring along an action camera with a waterproof case to document your trip. It might just be a rock you’re taking home, but what if everyone took one? What if some creature was living under that rock? Leave it be. Plus, waterproof cameras are a ton of fun. I suggest picking up a floating lanyard for it as well.
4. Campfires: Common advice is to minimize your campfire, but I suggest you skip it. Bring a small stove along instead. Firewood is hard to find. Further, no wood should be brought in from outside a region, as it could lead to importing new insects or other invasive organisms. Plus, cooking on a camping stove is way easier than trying to make a nice meal and a cup of coffee over an open fire.
5. Respect Wildlife: Don’t paddle up too closely to nesting birds or other creatures along the river. Use your camera’s zoom to capture the moment. Better yet, slow down, relax and absorb the moment of sharing space with something so cool as a moose, loon or beaver. Consider carrying field guides with you and store them in small dry-bags behind your seat or in your cockpit: learning exactly what you’re looking at can be quite rewarding. Keep notes in a write-in-the-rain notebook to accompany your pictures. A great picture with great notes can be an awesome thing!
Knowing how to minimize our impact is a great feeling, but implementing that knowledge can transcend an outdoor trip to a rewarding and fulfilling experience for both you and those who follow later. In fact, enjoying New England’s waterways while practicing Leave No Trace Paddling methods can be some of the most important stewardship an area will ever see. Without recreation, it’s nearly impossible to muster public support for conservation and protection of awesome waterways such as the Connecticut River. Responsible recreation is an important factor in protecting our favorite rivers and trails for future generations.
”We have been working to help people get to the river for decades. Our paddler’s guide first came out in the 1960s because we know the Connecticut is one of New England’s iconic rivers, and the Source to Sea paddle is an epic journey. Whether you are paddling all 400 miles or just a short day trip, getting on the water connects us to our landscape, our history and to each other.” -Andy Fisk, Executive Director, Connecticut River Watershed Council.
I welcome you to check out my recent trip on the Connecticut, from White River Junction to Windsor, VT