Spring is nearly upon us, and with it one of my favorite days of the year... St. Patrick's Day! This day will always hold a special place in my heart; growing up, St. Paddy's Day was a real treat in my family. As kids, we set traps overnight to catch leprechauns, and we awoke to trails of shamrock garland leading down the hallway and stairs to baskets of green goodies: green candy, live plants, green teas, costume jewelry and other accessories... all green. And, of course, the leprechaun always escaped our traps unscathed, leaving little bits of naughty mischief in his wake. And Mom always cooked the best corned beef stew -- and still does, despite my efforts to imitate her recipe.
As I got older, I became that weirdo who cared way too much about St. Paddy's: every year, I brought green treats to work to share with coworkers, made green crafts to decorate the house with, and - of course - established a particular fondness for Guinness.
I am not alone in my love for the holiday, but unlike most Americans, I see it as more than just a day for excessive drinking. To me, St. Paddy's Day is a festive, magical event that represents friendship, peace, kindness, thankfulness, and above all else, generosity. It is a day to appreciate those around us (friends, family, coworkers, neighbors... yes, even the annoying ones) as well as nature. Some of my fondest St. Paddy's Day memories are of gray, drizzly days when the hills are freshly green and covered in thick fog.... Despite its revelry, St. Paddy's Day has always meant, for me at least, a strange sense of calm peacefulness.
In celebration of this special day, I want to invite you to share my appreciation of all things green... particularly nature. If you camp or glamp, then you probably already do -- but sometimes even nature lovers like ourselves forget the impact we have on the environment around us when we camp. The next time you're out there in the wilderness, doing what you love, please remember that it is up to responsible people such as ourselves to preserve and protect the natural beauty we enjoy so much.
You already know all of the popular mantras... pack it in, pack it out; take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. But of those footprints, did you know that your trusty old hiking boots could be damaging the delicate flora in your campsite? On the rugged hiking trail, tough heavy footwear is appropriate; but if you're just lounging around your site (as I often do), you should opt for softer footwear, such as a reliable sneaker or tennis shoe.
Ditch the Disposables
Many people use disposable dinnerware while camping because of its convenience, but think of the hundreds of plastic spoons and forks, and all of the paper plates that are going into the landfills. Trade your disposables for a trusty set of melamine dishware and reusable utensils. Not only will it save you money in the long run, real dishware is sturdier and looks nicer, and is way better for the environment.
Clean with Clean Products
When it comes time to wash those melamine plates, reach for a biodegradable soap instead of regular dish soap, which can harm local wildlife. Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash is a good alternative. It's completely biodegradable, and the brand offers a few other similar products, like wipes and hand soap. Just remember to keep your waste water away from rivers and lakes; dump it onto dry ground instead.
Pack Up, Pick Up
When you're packed up at the end of your trip and ready to leave, do one last thorough sweep of your site. Pick up anything that doesn't belong... yes, even if it isn't yours. Don't let others' sloppiness be your excuse for leaving your site trashed. You would be surprised how many bottle caps get left behind in fire pits and bushes. And, ultimately, you are responsible for leaving the site better than you found it.
Many campgrounds will remind you of this when you arrive. If possible, wait to buy wood until you are local to your campground (don't bring wood from the next state over). Every environment is unique, with its own particular ecosystem in place. Wood from other areas could harbor dangerous bugs or spores, which have been responsible for devastating entire ecosystems in the past.
Respect the Rules
This one seems obvious, but you never know. Yes, it's a total bummer when you're not allowed to hang hammocks, but it's not just because your host is a jerk and wants to ruin your trip. Hammocks can damage trees by cutting the bark and making them susceptible to destructive beetles. Or... certain species are brittle and cannot reliably support the weight of a hammock, and may pose a threat to you and your campmates. Listen to your host and obey any posted signs... stick to the worn trails instead of blazing your own, as you could harm delicate (or possibly even endangered) wildlife. Be respectful and courteous; the rules are there for a reason.
Whenever possible, opt for eco-friendly products. These days, nearly every camping product comes in an eco-friendly option, including tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and totes, shoes, clothing, gear, and more. Do your research before you buy, and opt for a brand that either offers eco-friendly products or makes a conscious effort to reduce waste and protect the environment. Check out this list for more suggestions and ideas.
Donate to the Cause
If you have some spare cash lying around, consider donating to any number of environmental charities, such as WWF or NGS. Some areas offer a sort of environmental membership, like The Greener Camping Club. For a fee, this organization offers its members access to a variety of eco-friendly, sustainable campgrounds, all while using funds to plant trees, install nesting and bat boxes, and otherwise support environmental preservation projects.