Driving to Heart Lake, I was filled with anticipation. I’d been an unofficial advocate for Leave No Trace in the United Kingdom for twenty years and was excited to be participating in the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Leave No Trace Master Educator course.

I was interested in learning new methods and being challenged to think and behave differently when in the outdoors.

The seven principles of Leave No Trace were introduced the first day, and throughout the course participants delivered presentations and activities on each principle.  This was a paddling-based course, so we moved location each night by canoe in an effort to experience different environments and see first-hand our impact.

Our first night in the field, we camped on an island that was suffering from less than leave-no-trace human activity.  We came across someone’s leftover dinner, much toilet tissue, graffiti, and an overflowing pit loo.

The second day we paddled to a peninsula that was linked to a high-impact campsite.  We had trail visitors and shared the Leave No Trace principles with those who expressed an interest, showing them our bear hang and describing fun ways to poop in the woods.

We landed for the final night as a bear was finishing his duty not far from our campsite.  After three nights of erecting bear hangs and eating before dusk and not using any products with perfume or any flavor/smell that could entice our large friends, we were going to be sharing our space with a black bear.  There was no concern about the potential for a bear blunder, since we’d followed the principles and were especially respectful of the wildlife in our midst, including the loons and bald eagles.

By the end of the course, I most definitely had developed a new appreciation for being in and learning from the outdoors.  Upon returning home, I began to mull over some of the thought-provoking discussions we’d had.  One activity posed a question about feeding wildlife, which made me think about the bird feeder in my backyard.  I questioned if my garden was enough for the birds and chose to stop filling the feeder.  I found myself observing the activity amongst the flowers in the garden and in the woodland surrounding the property, experiencing the great outdoors more fully as a result.  My time on the Leave No Trace Master Educator course has a profound impact on me.

But how would the Leave No Trace principles affect my work as a kayak instructor, I wondered?

Many paddlers are new to the sport and may not have considered the full impact of paddling in an aquatic environment. Our use of campsites by water can cause erosion; rubbish can accidentally be left behind or blow out of boats if not stored properly; sunscreen in the water may also affect the marine environment.  When we don’t wash our boats and equipment, we can unknowingly transport invasive species.

Whether on a day paddle with a lunch stop, an overnight camp trip, or a lengthy expedition, we have the ability to minimize our recreational impacts and grow into better citizens of the planet by following the seven principles of Leave No Trace.  As a Master Educator I am looking forward to sharing my newfound Leave No Trace skills with my students, friends, and family.

Thanks to ADK’s fearless instructors Ryan and Seth, the participants who made the experience exceptional, and Leave No Trace for a life-changing course!

You can find more information about ADK’s Leave No Trace courses here.

Andrea Vaillancourt-Alder is a kayak instructor with Seabirds International in the United Kingdom.