Q&A with a Leave No Trace Advocate
By Stacy Boyce, Girls Who Hike South Carolina Ambassador
I had no idea Leave No Trace (LNT) was an organization. Like so many other hikers I’ve heard of it referred to more as an outdoor philosophy and mostly distilled down to ‘take nothing but memories and leave nothing but footprints.” Imagine my surprise when I received a Facebook message earlier this year from a GWH member explaining that’s she’s the LNT Advocate for South Carolina.
That’s how I first met Elamon Barrett. She and I have been chatting for several weeks now about how to give LNT more visibility in the SC chapter. Many of you are probably like me, unaware of the LNT nonprofit organization, so I decided to interview Elamon and let her share the LNT message with all of the GWH community.
If this blog post leaves you wanting to know more about Leave No Trace, check out their website: www.lnt.org.
SB: The first question is a little obvious, but how do you describe LNT to people who haven't heard of it before?
EB: I would say it is a set of ethics and best practices that help everyone minimize their impact on the environment while also enjoying and adventuring out into the world. It applies to all corners or the globe, no matter how big or small your effort is; every single person can make a difference and Leave No Trace.
SB: How did you become the state advocate for SC?
EB: I guess you could say I stumbled upon the position. I was searching for more information on the LNT.org website, and when I was on SC specific page, I noticed there was a vacancy for the SC State Advocate position. So, I applied, and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics called and asked if I would be interested in an interview, and the rest is history. I believe the whole process from applying to accepting the position was about a month total. I became the Leave No Trace South Carolina State Advocate because Leave No Trace is such a big part of my job in my VetsWork Internship with the Forest Service. The responsibilities meshed really well with the goals I already had planned to improve the programs established on Sumter National Forest.
SB: Let’s sidetrack for a moment, what is your day job?
EB: So, my day job is a very long title. I am a VetsWork Environment Intern through AmeriCorps, run by the Mt. Adams Institute as the Volunteer and Partnership Coordinator at Sumter National Forest with the US Forest Service. Now that is a mouth full for sure. The program I am in is a veteran-specific internship geared towards helping veterans transition into the civilian sector and gain on the job experience with Natural Resource Management agencies. I coordinate volunteers to help maintain the forest through trail maintenance days, litter pickups, and outreach events. I work outside a lot and even go on backpacking trips to hit hard to reach trails and camping areas to pick up trash and conduct trail maintenance.
SB: How do your LNT position and your day job complement each other, if at all?
EB: For me, Leave No Trace is a major part of my position working with the US Forest Service, which is why I applied for the SC State Advocate position. A lot of requirements as a state advocate are directly in line with what I do on a regular basis with volunteers and the public at Sumter National Forest. I spread Leave No Trace education when I talk with visitors in the forest, I coordinate training events and awareness workshops with volunteers, and I coordinate with local schools to spread Leave No Trace Ethics.
SB: Awesome! Now let’s get back on track, when did you first hear about LNT?
EB: I first heard about Leave No Trace when I started my VetsWork Environment Internship in March 2017. Before that, I really had no idea what Leave No Trace was all about. I had the basics in my head, “Take only photos, leave only footprints,” but besides that, I could not spout out the seven principles of Leave No Trace or anything specific like how to properly poop in the woods. From there I really got into Leave No Trace when I took a trainer-course at the Wilderness Skills Institute (WSI) in May of 2017. WSI was the spark that developed my fierce passion for Leave No Trace and is the reason I am where I am today. Now I am a Leave No Trace Master Educator and the SC State Advocate for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.
SB: What does the role of LNT Advocate involve?
EB: As the SC State Advocate I represent the entire state for the Leave No Trace Center. I am the point of contact to help provide information about Leave No Trace, setup Awareness Workshops or Trainer Courses and connect with the community to spread Leave No Trace to everyone I can possibly reach. Some responsibilities include: committing to 2 years as the SC State Advocate, submitting quarterly reports on Leave No Trace activities with the community, conducting awareness workshops and/or trainer courses, maintaining the SC Leave No Trace Facebook page, attending events and representing the Center with a booth display, conducting outreach in the community to spread Leave No Trace, and so much more.
SB: Does every state have an advocate?
EB: Yes! Every state does have a State Advocate. The minimum commitment is two years, but some State Advocates have been at it for ten plus years! I may be moving from SC in 2019, and I will have to relinquish my position. It will be available to anyone who is passionate about Leave No Trace, interested in representing the entire state for Leave No Trace, and the Center thinks you will be a great representative for LNT.
SB: Since taking this role, what has been your biggest surprise?
EB: Haha, I would definitely have to say how hard it is to coordinate events around Mother Nature. She is not always as nice as we would like her to be.
(funny side note, our first attempt at a GWH LNT meet up was canceled due to weather)
SB: Which LNT principle do you see broken/ignored most often?
EB: That is a tough one for sure, but I would have to say, Principle #3 Disposing of Waste Properly, is either intentionally or unintentionally ignored. You can see trash almost everywhere you go in the forest, as well as, seeing toilet paper residue from those who did not pack out their toilet paper from using the bathroom in the forest. I have also stumbled upon my fair share of evidence from those who did not know to dig a cat hole when they had to poop.
SB: Well (insert poop emoji)! Do you have a favorite LNT principle?
EB: Funny you ask that because Principle #3 Dispose of Waste Properly, is also my favorite principle. The reason is that it introduces the sometimes not so comfortable conversation about poop. It may be a slightly uncomfortable topic, but once you get a group to open up about pooping in the forest, laughs are shared, and it always brings the group that I am instructing closer together. I don’t know why, but great stories are always shared either good or bad about times where Mother Nature calls, and you just have to go and run for your life to reach a toilet or dig a cat hole.
SB: After you left the Navy you could have taken your career in any number of directions. What drew you to a career in the outdoors?
EB: I have always loved the outdoors, and once I completed my obligated service requirement with the Navy I decided to do a 180 career shift and pursue a career in natural resource management. Before I entered the Navy, I obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Marine Science. I knew I was not going to make a career out of the Navy, but I just didn’t know where my next path in life was going to take me. The internship I am in now is specifically geared towards helping veterans transition into the civilian sector and give them on the job experience with the Forest Service. It was exactly what I was looking for the get my foot in the door for a career in natural resource management. Leave No Trace just fell perfectly into all of my already established passion for the environment. The training I took with Leave No Trace gave me the words I needed to express the importance of minimizing our impacts on the world.
SB: So you’re new to LNT but also super passionate about it. As you tackle this new passion, what are you finding to be most challenging about your LNT role?
EB: When talking to the public about the importance of following the seven principles you must come from the Authority of the Resource. Which means you must explain the “why.” Why it is important to not camp on areas that are closed off for vegetation rehabilitation, why it is important to dig a cat hole when going poop in the forest to not contaminate the water sources and allow for decomposition to occur, or why it is important to pack out trash instead of leaving it or burning it in a fire pit to protect the natural environment and wildlife in the area. Authority of the Resource is a technique that takes practice to be able to talk to the public confidently without coming across as arrogant or from a place of negativity. Interactions with the public are best received if they are helpful and informational versus negative and just saying “no don’t do that.” That to me is one of the most challenging aspects of being an educator of Leave No Trace.
SB: This is another obvious question, but I’m curious to hear your response: has working with LNT and the Forest Service given you a deeper/greater appreciation for the outdoors?
EB: Most definitely it has given me a greater appreciation. Before I started my internship, I had never even thought of who maintains trails or how they are maintained, who actually hikes in 3 miles to pick up trash left by other visitors and then hikes it back out, or who maintains our recreation areas, so they stay beautiful. Now I am the one hiking in to pick up trash, doing trail maintenance, and educating the public on Leave No Trace. I will admit that I was not the best representation of leaving no trace before I started my job. I have burned trash in a fire pit before, dropped trash and was too lazy to go back and pick it up, and I have definitely carved my name somewhere in a tree. But! Now I have the knowledge of how impacting those actions truly are, and I strive to educate everyone I meet on the importance of Leave No Trace.
SB: Time for your closing thoughts, what advice do you have for GWH members who haven't been through LNT training on how they can be responsible stewards of the outdoors?
EB: Knowledge is power, and that power gives you the tools necessary to be a responsible steward of the outdoors. On top of that, using Principle #1 Planning Ahead and Preparing Before You Go. LNT.org has great information for those just starting out on their first adventures into the outdoors, and they have info on all 7 Principles as well as best practices while recreating to minimize our impacts. You don’t have to go through formal training to have knowledge in Leave No Trace and be able to talk to others about minimizing their impacts, and everyone is a steward of the outdoors. One small act can make a difference in protecting the world.