Cook County Blog

What is "Leave No Trace" and Why is it Important

Posted by Visit Cook County MN on 7/2/20 9:59 AM

What is Leave No Trace and Why is it Important

This year more than ever, there is an increased appreciation for the great outdoors. If you have perused the site that issues BWCAW permits, you’ll see that many of the popular entry points are sold out well into August! Thankfully  our wilderness is vast and there is plenty of room to explore and discover. 

Additionally, the more we are exposed to the mysteries of nature, the deeper our understanding and appreciation of it becomes. And with increased use, comes increased human footprint on the environment. Rarely is damage done with the intent of harm, the most common cause is a lack of awareness of the best practices or knowledge of proper etiquette. Even the most wilderness savvy folks sometimes need a reminder about the Leave No Trace principles.

What is Leave No Trace? 

Leave No Trace is a principle founded in 1994 around the idea that a good wilderness steward should leave nothing behind but footprints. This philosophy is not just for backcountry campers but for anyone enjoying the great outdoors such as day hikers, RVers and even picnickers. There are seven key principles of Leave No Trace:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare. Make sure you know the rules and regulations of the area. For example, some of the things you can bring to a State Park campground are not allowed in the BWCAW like glass bottles or cans. Also, don’t forget that an important and founding covenant of the BWCAW is that there are also absolutely no motors allowed. 
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Stay on designated trails. While it is tempting to venture off trail, you may be stepping on a delicate ecosystem that will be permanently damaged (for example, there are many areas where Pink Lady Slippers and other flora grow annually just off of the side of the trail that would be easily destroyed by a careless hiking boot.) Campers will want to look for designated campsites with fire rings and defined tent pads. 
  3. Dispose of waste properly. Pack out whatever you bring in, that includes garbage, gear, dog poop, and in some cases, human waste. Do not burn garbage or toss it in the latrine and practice leaving the woods better than you found it by bring an extra bag to pick up any unintentional litter from prior visitors. 
  4. Leave what you find. Please “take only pictures and leave only footprints.” Leave the treasures and artifacts you find for the next person to discover. Similarly, you want to remove any sign that you were there. Do not build and leave structures. Gather firewood away from camps and trails. 
  5. Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire). While a campfire is synonymous with camping, be sure to always build one within a designated fire ring and keep it under control. Wildfires are rarely started intentionally. Most occur by accident when a fire is built under windy conditions, during a drought, or is not property put out in camp. 
  6. Respect wildlife. We all want that perfect photo of a moose and her calf cooling off in a bog, but getting too close or chasing wildlife can put both you and the animal in danger. Do not feed wild animals. It might feel like it is harmless to feed the friendly squirrel at camp, however, human food may make the animal sick and leaving food behind can attract larger critters (like bears) to into your camp. This also applies to disposing of food-waste properly. 
  7. Be considerate of other visitors. Always treat others as you would wish to be treated. As Minnesotans, we pride ourselves on being “Minnesota Nice.” However, Remember, sound carries much further across a lake than one would expect. Be aware of your surroundings and volume. Keep pets under control and yield to other groups you meet on the trail. 

Why is Leave No Trace Important?

Mother nature is important and small mistakes can have lasting effects on the wilderness. A forgotten campfire can destroy homes, harm animals and people, and forever change the forest. Invasive species can change an entire ecosystem after one exposure, which may ruin your favorite walleye lake. Human or pet waste can get into the drinking water and even make some pristine beaches toxic or unusable for periods of time. Garbage left behind is not only an eyesore and bad for the environment but it can also attract wild animals to camp

Where to dispose of garbage in Cook County MN

Garbage in Tofte ParkIt is inevitable to incur some trash while traveling. Additionally, due to covid-19 there is an increase in disposable goods like masks, gloves, single use bags and takeout containers. It is critical that we do what we can to mitigate damage to our environment. There is no janitor in the wilderness. If you leave it behind, it will attract wild animals and harm the ecosystem as well as contaminate drinking water.  If you are looking for places to dispose of garbage, takeout containers or litter you’ve picked up - consider one of these options. 

For large quantities of garbage (such as a trash bag or greater) or recycling: 

  • North Shore Waste - Grand Marais - Drop off hours: Monday - Friday 8am-4pm & Saturday 8am-12noon 
  • Isak Hansen's - Lutsen - Drop off hours: Mon-Fri 7:30-5:00, Sat 8:00-3:00, Sun 9:00-2:00
  • Tofte Transfer Station - Tofte - Drop off hours Year-Round: Tuesday – 9:00 am to 3:00 pm & Saturday – 8:00 am to 2:00 pm // May 15 – September 15: Thursday 11:00 am – 5:00pm
  • Grand Marais Recycling Center - Grand Marais - Drop off hours: Monday - 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Tuesday - 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., Wednesday - 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., Thursdays - 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

For small items and takeout boxes: 

  • Find a public trash can provided by the city of Grand Marais or park service.
  • Bring it back to your room or cabin where you can follow the trash procedures recommended by your lodging establishment. Most campgrounds have very specific trash procedures to avoid problems with bears and other wildlife.
  • Return to the location you purchased to-go food and place in their receptacle.

Never place bags of trash in the dumpsters of private businesses or gas stations unless you have permission or offer to pay for the bag. 

By working together, we can all enjoy the great outdoors for generations to come. There is a lot to discover about the wilderness and we invite you to explore it. Stay curious and stay safe!