Maryland State Parks have surpassed visitation records the past two years, and 2021 is on track to meet or exceed these unprecedented numbers.
While the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is pleased that more people are getting into nature and discovering the 75 beautiful state parks — many for the first time — this trend has brought with it some significant challenges. The sheer number of visitors, compounded with many newcomers inexperienced with outdoor, resource-based recreation has led to substantial increases in litter, trail damage, parking issues, user conflicts and other resource impacts.
“It is wonderful that so many visitors are enjoying our state parks, but we also need to be vigilant about protecting the very resources people are coming to enjoy,” Maryland Park Service Superintendent Nita Settina said. “That’s why we are raising awareness about the simple, but important ways visitors can help keep their parks green and clean.”
Through a longstanding partnership with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics Inc. the Maryland Park Service is educating visitors about several simple principles that will help them make responsible decisions to better minimize their impact, while maximizing their outdoor recreational experience.
The seven principles of Leave No Trace
1. Know Before You Go. Before you visit, plan ahead and prepare for any special considerations or regulations that might restrict your activities in a particular park or area. Check the website of the park you are visiting for up-to-the minute information. Proper preparation is the most important first step to minimize your impact.
2. Stick to Trails and Camp Overnight Right. Maryland public lands feature more than 1,000 miles of trails. Hikers, bikers and equestrians are asked to stay on these designated trails for their own safety and to protect trailside plants. Campers should camp only on existing or designated campsites to avoid damaging vegetation and keep their camping equipment on the provided camp pad.
3. Trash Your Trash. More than 25 years ago, in an effort to reduce the amount of trash and unsightly receptacles, Maryland State Parks removed their trash receptacles and began asking visitors to “pack it in and pack it out,” or take their trash with them. When you do not see trash receptacles, take your trash with you.
4. Leave What You Find. Maryland’s parks are full of beautiful natural wonders and significant historical resources. Leave plants, rocks and historical items as you find them so others can enjoy them. Treat living plants with respect. Carving, hacking or peeling plants and trees may open them up to infection or kill them.
5. Be Careful with Fire. A campfire is a great part of any outdoor experience but it’s also potentially the most dangerous. Use a camp stove for cooking. Stoves are easier to cook on and create less impact than a fire. If you want to have a campfire, be sure it’s permitted and safe to build a fire in the area you’re visiting. Use only the existing fire rings to protect the ground from heat and keep your fire small.
6. Keep Wildlife Wild. One of the greatest thrills of outdoor adventures is to see a variety of wild animals most people would not normally see close to home. Observe wildlife from a distance and never approach, feed or follow them.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors. With an ever-growing number of people seeking healthy outdoor activities, it becomes even more important that visitors respect each other and give each other the space to enjoy the resources in their own way. Be sure the fun you have outdoors does not bother anyone else.