Remember to ‘Watch Your Paws’ when Spending Time Outside
By Anika Smithson
The days are getting longer,
Temperatures are rising,
Rain is waking things up,
The air smells different.
Winter has transitioned to spring, creating a shift, not only in nature, but in ourselves. As the weather changes people are beginning to spend more and more time outside. Thoughts are turning to outdoor activities and plans for summer adventures. This means there will be more visitors frequenting trails, parks and campgrounds. It is important to remember when visiting these places to be respectful of your surroundings – this includes plants, animals and fellow humans!
Follow these 5 steps to ‘Watch Your Paws’ in nature and have a great time discovering what adventures await you in the great outdoors.
- Plan Your Time in Nature
Always be prepared before you go! It is a good idea to plan out your route and activities, especially in more remote areas where you might not have access to cell service. This might mean researching what hiking trail you want to take or which campsite to book before arriving. Be sure to also choose trails suited to you and your group’s ability. Always bring a map (paper or digital) with you and tell someone where you will be. Make sure to have all the supplies you will need for your trip including a first aid kit, food and water. It is also important to check the weather and dress appropriately for the conditions.
Tip: Always pack a hat (for sun protection) and raincoat (if the weather changes) just in case.
- Use Marked Trails, Campsites and Firepits
Thinking about minimizing damage to the environment is important when spending time outside. Stay on trails and campsites to avoid stepping on wildlife and plants or sensitive habitat. Make sure to keep fires small, use fit pits if they are available, and completely extinguish them when done to prevent the possibility of forest fires. It is also important to camp well away from any water source to protect water quality.
Tip: Use wood from a campground for fires to avoid the spread of invasive species.
- Pack It In-Pack It Out
Everything that you bring on your outdoor adventure should also come back with you – never leave anything behind. We all know garbage is not good for the environment. It can harm habitats, animals can be attracted to smells which can cause more human-wildlife encounters and no one wants to feel responsible for picking up someone else’s garbage. This also applies to organic or biodegradable items. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a good idea to throw organics into the woods. They take a long time to break down and may land in places where that is not even possible. Organics can also build up in places frequented by many visitors, attracting animals. Biodegradable items can also be an issue. Biodegradable labels are used on many products, but can mean different things. It is best to bring these items out with you as they may only be designed to biodegrade in certain environments (such as specialized waste facilities) and you do not want animals to find them before they break down.
Tip: Once finished eating, use the container or bag from your food to store your garbage until you can dispose of it properly.
- Respect Wildlife and Plants
Nature is everyone’s home and it is important to respect all plants and animals when spending time outside. It can be fun to explore all the treasures nature has to offer, but remember not to pick living plants and keep your distance from animals so you don’t disturb them. You should also leave behind any sticks, rocks or plants you find along the way. These are all part of the natural environment – providing habitat for many animals or enriching the soil when they decompose. If you are exploring an area, be sure to put back anything you picked up.
Tip: Pack a pair of binoculars – it will let you view wildlife without having to get too close and disturb them.
- Be considerate of your fellow visitors
Everyone deserves to feel safe and enjoy their time outdoors. Be respectful of those you may be sharing the trail, park or campground with by not being disruptive of others and minimizing noise. On trails, yield to those who are looking to pass you or are going in the opposite direction. Always leave a place as you found it – consider picking up any garbage you find to dispose of properly. Remember to also check if pets are allowed where you want to visit and keep them on a leash.
Tip: If you like listening to music, a podcast, etc. while outdoors, bring headphones so that you can enjoy it without disturbing others.
With these 5 steps to ‘Watch Your Paws’ in nature, you are ready to have fun outside. All that’s left is to plan your visit and enjoy the many benefits nature has to offer!
Banner Photo: Beaver Pond Trail, Mactaquac Provincial Park.
Photos: Danielle Hak