Lassen rangers eagerly await Leave No Trace trainers
Amanda Sweeney has traversed every trail through Lassen Volcanic National Park.
She’s done so, in part, because of her job: Sweeney is a ranger, stationed at Lassen for 10 years after starting out at Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park in Alaska. She also has a passion; an “avid backpacker and hiker,” she visits preserves across the region—including national forest land near Chester, where she lives, and even Upper Bidwell Park.
During her decade inside and around Lassen, Sweeney has noticed changes. Of particular note are increases in litter and erosion, established trails growing wider, impromptu trails and campsites cutting into wildlife, and more incidents of bears taking human food.
The park, encompassing 150 miles of trails over more than 79,000 acres of wilderness, draws 500,000 visitors a year. Their “cumulative effect” takes a toll.
“One of the ways we maintain trails is by hiking on them, because it keeps the forest from taking the trails back over,” Sweeney said. “But what we notice here are people like to hike the same trail a lot … so the hard part is we tend to get a lot of people in one area, and the use gets really concentrated. People hiking on-trail and off-trail at the same spot, camping at the same spot or creating new spots in the same area—it’s the concentrated use.”
Park Superintendent Jim Richardson has noticed impacts, too, and he’s been at Lassen only since spring 2017. He came from Guam and Saipan; earlier in his 32-year career, he worked at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.
“We don’t allow campfires in our backcountry, yet if you go to any of the places—especially where there’s campsites, people overnight backpacking—you’ll see leftover firings,” Richardson said. “They can’t all be from 50 years ago!”
The common theme linking all these issues encapsulates into a three-word statement: Leave no trace. That happens to be the name of a venture from the Colorado-based Center for Outdoor Ethics, which each year selects parks around the country as hot spots for traveling trainers to conduct educational outreach programs.
Lassen is one of 20 chosen for 2018. Third-year traveling trainers Donielle Stevens and Aaron Hussmann will arrive Monday (July 23) for a week-long series of programs, culminating in three workshops designed for the public next Friday (July 27).
Leave No Trace promotes seven principles: plan ahead and prepare; travel and camp on durable surfaces; dispose of waste properly; leave what you find; minimize campfire impacts; respect wildlife; and be considerate of other visitors. Stevens and Hussmann will present the principles and lead service projects over the course of their stay, which wraps up July 30.
Rangers at Lassen, the lone hot spot on the West Coast this year, eagerly await the visit and anticipate a big—positive—impact.
“Our national parks are our parks,” Sweeney said. “There are rangers who work at them, but they belong to all of us; and when anyone comes to the park, we want them to walk away with the feeling that, What I do matters.”
The concept of Leave No Trace can carry different meanings for different people. Sweeney illustrated this point by sharing a recent encounter in the park.
Along the Crumbaugh Lake Trail, Sweeney met two young girls with their parents. One girl carried three wildflowers. Sweeney mentioned that the girls could become junior rangers, and one of the principles of junior rangers is to “leave the park as we found it.” She then discussed the role the lupins she held play in the ecosystem, from attracting butterflies to providing seeds for squirrels and chipmunks.
“She had a chance to learn that her not picking flowers is one thing she can do, and it matters,” Sweeney said.
That’s the sort of practical lesson she expects to come from the Leave No Trace traveling trainers. Stevens, a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, started with the organization as a trail crew member. Hussmann, out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, is an environmental educator who previously worked with the League to Save Lake Tahoe.
“If [attendees] learn one way that they can make a difference in their park, just while hiking or backpacking, that is all I want,” Sweeney added.
That park needn’t be Lassen. Richardson said the principles are “meant to be applied to all areas and then adapted to the specifics needed at each place.”
Preserved places vary. National forestland surrounds Lassen Volcanic National Park; Sweeney’s house also happens to border land protected by the U.S. Forest Service.
“We call Forest Service land ‘the land of many uses’ [and] I like to tell visitors that national parks are sort of like outdoor museums—we want people to come, enjoy them and leave them as close to the way they found them as possible,” she continued. “It’s just a different level of protection….
“I want people to take away some of the ideals and the ideas that we really encourage in the Park Service and apply them to other public lands. … It’s so important we apply them wherever we go, even in Bidwell Park.”