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Safety Tips for Hiking and Camping

Backcountry Ethics

Teaching kids to respect nature is one of the many benefits of hiking. Follow rules of courtesy and common sense when you're on the trail. The first and most important rule is: Leave everything you find, and take only what you bring. That means no littering of any kind (not even toilet paper - put it in a plastic bag and bring home with you!).

It also means not bringing home a souvenir. It may be tempting to bring home a pretty flower or interesting fossil, but doing so can have a profound effect on the ecosystem. Most parks prohibit taking any flora or fauna from the woods, although it may be acceptable to take leaves or acorns that have fallen from trees on their own. Under no circumstances should you or the kids pick live plants to take home.

You can protect the balance of nature in a few other ways. Don't stray off the marked trail, if you can help it. Keep clear of sensitive areas off the trail, like wetlands or lakeshores, and stick to marked spur trails for scenic overlooks and other noteworthy stopping points. If you must go to the bathroom, do so at least 200 yards from any campsite, and bury solid waste at least 6 inches deep. The goal is to leave as little a trace as possible.

Be sure to treat other hikers courteously. Move aside for faster hikers, and if you're heading downhill, yield to uphill climbers. If you bring your dog, keep it on a leash at all times, as dogs have a tendency to try to "protect" their owners from other hikers and from wildlife. (And note that many trails forbid dogs altogether.) At shared campsites and overlooks, respect the rights of others to enjoy nature in peace and quiet.

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