Over the past year, many businesses have had to rethink their business models to make concessions during COVID-19. When the pandemic first began, Maricopa County’s Parks and Recreation Department anticipated a drop in park visitation. However, it quickly became apparent that with local venues around the valley closed, outdoor spaces such as local parks and preserves were in high demand.
Since last March, a record number of people have flocked to Maricopa County’s regional parks seeking recreational opportunities. “Our regional park system has experienced a 13.2% increase in park attendance during this time, and that’s with temporary capacity limits in place,” said Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers, District 1. “In a recent survey conducted by the Arizona State University Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions on behalf of the department, staff learned that 41% of those surveyed are visiting their local public lands more often than before. Why? These open spaces allow them to stay physically distanced from others while enjoying fitness-based activities and scenic backdrops which help them decompress.”
“With the increase in traffic, we’ve noticed park visitors are using and impacting the land in different ways,” stated R.J. Cardin, Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department Director. “Recently, our department partnered with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics™. The agency's primary focus is to protect the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly. While our agency believes we must responsibly manage our regional park system, so it thrives, we also strive to educate those visiting the parks on the importance of preserving the natural and cultural resources for generations yet to come.”
In 1987, Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics™ developed an educational program to teach visitors how to avoid or minimize their impact on public lands. This program is best known as the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace™. Through the department’s partnership with Leave No Trace™, the agencies were able to adapt the original set of principles to meet the department’s needs.
It is important to practice Leave No Trace™ skills and ethics to help minimize the collective impact on parks, preserves, and conservation area ecosystems. Using the following Seven Leave No Trace Principles™ can help towards preserving outdoor spaces.
Read up on the rules and regulations of the area that you are visiting. Make note of the weather and available facilities. Be prepared with water and other supplies.
- Stick to trails and camp overnight right
Walk and ride on designated trails. Stepping on flowers, cacti, or small trees damages them and they may not grow back. Camp only on existing or designated campsites where camping is permitted.
- Trash your trash and pick up poop
Pack it in, Pack it out. Put litter, food crumbs, fruit and vegetable peels/cores, and pet waste in garbage cans or in garbage bags to carry home to prevent litter.
Bring along your camera to take photos instead of taking souvenirs. Leave plants, rocks, and historical items so others can enjoy them. They may be animals’ food or home!
Be sure campfires and charcoal grills are permitted and safe to build one in the area you’re visiting. Use only existing fire rings, keep your fire small, and put it completely out before you leave.
Observe wildlife from a distance and never approach, feed, pose for selfies, or follow them. Bring your binoculars or take pictures at a distance.
- Share our trails and manage your pet
Be considerate when passing others on the trail. Keep your pet on a leash to protect it, other visitors, and wildlife.
In addition to promoting the Seven Leave No Trace Principles™, the department has developed a COVID-19 friendly self-guided activity to help parents teach youth the importance of appreciating nature in the parks without taking souvenirs such as rocks, leaves, and insects home with them.
To show their support for the Leave No Trace™ partnership, and commitment to protecting outdoor spaces the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, along with the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Commission, recently adopted a Resolution in support of the Leave No Trace™ program.
To learn more about Maricopa County’s Leave No Trace Principles™, visit bit.ly/LeaveNoTrace-BetterTogether. Maricopa County is home to one of the largest regional parks systems in the nation with over 120,000 acres of open space parks that include hundreds of miles of trails, campgrounds, and nature centers. Information about Maricopa County’s eleven regional parks can be found at www.maricopacountyparks.net.