Does the concept of “leave no trace” go beyond graffiti and garbage? I think we all agree that it does. The general idea is not only that we leave nature as we found it, but that the next person to explore the area should see no sign that we were there before them.
When it comes to Devil’s Lake State Park when we think about “leave no trace” on the trails we generally think about garbage, doggy doo and graffiti. More recently we’ve put a focus on social trails as well. These are probably the most obvious visible ways visitors impact other park users experiences. Another place we think about the “leave no trace” ethic is sound. Noise. Loud music and dudes who yell just to hear themselves yelling are just some of the common sounds of summer at the park. Noise is one of the reasons drones are not allowed in the parks. All of these things are pretty easy to identify and are often blamed on people “who don’t respect nature”. But what about those of us consider ourselves “outdoorsy; The park lovers, nature lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts? How are we doing with, “Leave no trace” at Devil’s Lake State Park?
When it comes to environmentally “aware” people leaving no trace, one thing that has always puzzled me are the empty bottles of organic juices or eco-friendly sports drinks tossed in the grass or between the rocks along the trails. There’s a clear example of a paradox if you ever saw one! I’m not sure we’re doing nature any favors by tossing our sustainably made fruit drink bottle in the grass…
But something more obvious recently has been all of the blue arrows on and along the East Bluff Trail. Devil’s Lake State Park hosts a variety of races, triathlons, etc., each year and routes through the park are marked in various ways, usually temporary. Flags are the most common and usually picked up after the race. But more recently people have been spray painting arrows on the trails, rocks, and trees. I’m actually surprised that park officials allowed this. Not only does it look bad, but some, like the one on the tree (photographed on top), can be confusing and lead hikers off of the official trails causing more problems.
Certainly, folks participating in these outdoor events appreciate the park and wouldn’t want to trash it up, right? But here we are in December with blue arrows still all over the east bluff. This is clearly not respecting “leave no trace” ethics. Maybe it’s an oversight, but really, paint is hard to remove from rocks and tree bark even if you intended to clean it up.
Another more subtle “trace” left behind in recent years are the white streaks, hand, and fingerprints that are appearing on rockfaces along the trails as well. This is climbing chalk. Chalk used for rock climbing and bouldering is intended to be applied in a fine layer on the hands and fingers to mitigate moisture created by the human body. Chalk used heavily to deal with wet quartzite just becomes a sticky paste that gloms onto the rock. Does this violate the principles of “Leave No Trace”? It certainly impacts other visitors experience. Devils Lake State Park’s amazing purple quartzite isn’t only amazing to climb, but it’s amazing to photograph and just stand back and take in as well. When the rocks are covered with chalk, it’s not so pretty. In my conversations with a few folks in the local climbing community I’m told that when used properly, dry chalk would quickly just weather off. Whatever the case, my question would be, is climbing chalk a “Leave No Trace” consideration? Should it be?
Of course, the truth is that when humans are in nature, we will impact it and we have to make compromises. Still, we also agree that “Leave no trace” is a good guiding principle so we should always be looking for ways to do better. Oh, and that spray paint… that’s just got to stop.
**Just a reminder, DevilsLakeStatePark.com is owned by Skillet Creek Media and is not associated with the Wisconsin DNR in any way. My opinions do not represent those of the park or the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.