Millions of people visit public parks across North America every year. Nature preserves and natural parks are home to picturesque landscapes, monuments, natural wonders, and abundant wildlife.
Visiting parks is a great way to enjoy the beauty of nature and learn something along the way, but such visits also come with a great degree of responsibility. The National Parks Service and The British Columbia Ministry of Environment provide these guidelines to remain good environmental stewards when visiting popular parks and preserves.
Know the laws
National parks may be protected by federal law that may prohibit or restrict hunting and trapping animals to specific times of year. Wildlife living in parks may become less fearsome of people over time, especially when they grow accustomed to being fed or handled. Many parks prohibit feeding and close interacting with wildlife. Otherwise the animals may lose their hunting or foraging ability, or pose threats to people when the animals rapidly approach for an easy handout. Learn park rules so you’ll know what is acceptable behavior within its borders.
Keep wild animals wild
Feeding animals is perhaps one of the more dangerous things park visitors can do. In recent years, the National Park Service has had to euthanize deer, coyotes, rock squirrels, and other animals that have become too aggressive toward humans because they grew accustomed to receiving food from people.
Keep your distance from wildlife. Use proper equipment to view or photograph animals from several feet away. Stay even further away from animals that are breeding, nesting or raising young, as parents can become particularly protective of their children and turn aggressive.
Keep a clean camp
Camping and parks often go hand-in-hand. Keep a clean camp so you are not attracting bears and other food scavengers. Use trash receptacles and store garbage and food out of reach. Cook and clean away from your tent and immediately clean any cooking supplies after you have finished your meal. Only wood and paper should be burned, and try not to prepare food or fishing bait in close proximity to your campsite.
Prepare for weather
Weather can change on a dime when you’re in the wilderness. Pack accordingly, dressing in layers so you can change clothes as the weather demands. Have a flashlight and other emergency supplies available in case you get stuck in a storm.
Higher elevations and exposure to the sunlight can cause severe sunburn. Always apply and reapply sunscreen. High elevations also can increase the chance of dehydration, mountain sickness (headaches, nausea and dizziness) and the aggravation of preexisting medical conditions.
Avoid damaging vegetation
Animals are not the only natural wonders to protect. Use caution when hiking so you do not trample vegetation. Keep pets on leashes so they do not disturb sensitive habitats. Do not pick flowers or berries and take them away from the park.
Respecting local wildlife and taking steps to keep parks clean can make your hiking and camping experiences that much more enjoyable.