They did it for the land. They did it for themselves.

Alzar School | 27.10.15
This semester’s Chilean students, Jose and Niels, packing out trash found during the Bullileo backpacking expedition.

Leave No Trace (LNT) is a term that one would hear used often around the Alzar School campus in Cascade, Idaho, USA. In reality, though, it is used in nearly every outdoor, leadership curriculum in the United States. If a program spends time outside, their community inevitably addresses LNT. So, in true outdoor-educator fashion, let me outline for you the seven Leave No Trace principles:

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What You Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impact
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Other Users

The idea behind these principes is that, if everyone adheres to them, we can protect nature from being unnecessarily affected by our presence. Obviously, a giant group of teenagers (or anybody, for that matter) is going to have a lasting effect on the nature they trapse around in. Our hope is that the more conscious our students are about the effect they have, the better they will be able to minimize it.

As facilitators, we attempt to introduce and discuss this outdoor ethic in every applicable instance. As individuals who love nature, and as a program that depends on nature to deliver the leadership curriculum we value, and as a humankind that depends on nature for its wellbeing and survival, Leaving No Trace is of parmount importance.

What’s incredible for us, is when the students realize that, too.

On our first Chilean expedition of the semester, one student-group went backpacking in the extreme, lush, breath-taking Andes and the other paddling on some sections of a chilly, epic, face-melting river. The backpacking trip found itself in this narrow valley surrounded by awe-inspiring cliffs, snow, waterfalls, vistas, lakes, and… a surprising amount of trash. After a short conversation about the LNT principles we all know quite well, we decided to indulge in some healthy competition to see who could collect and hike out the most garbage.

Every single student participated to some degree, but what was cool for everyone to see, was how dedicated our Chilean students were to cleaning up this land they’d never seen before, but felt pride and sadness toward. They found giant plastic tarps, scrap metal, candy wrappers, glass bottles, knives, instant mac’n’cheese containers, and the list goes on. They found so much trash that they built a litter for it and eventually needed help carrying it all out.

The prize for carrying out the most trash was an icecream bar – no insignificant food for hiking teenagers. But, when we arrived at a gas station the day our expedition ended, Jose and Niels declined their prize and treat. They said they did it for the land. They did it for themselves.