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Conception and Early Development

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As the numbers of visitors to wild lands in the US increased
through the 60s and 70s, so too did the noticeable impacts.
At the same time the Federal Land Management Agencies in the US (US Forest Service, Bureau of land Management, the National Park Service) developed low impact hiking and camping practices and made brochures available on the subject to supplement regulations. It was realised that regulations alone were not the best way to keep visitor impacts down. The reason for this is threefold:

  1. regulations tend to antagonise the public rather than win their support
  2. most impacts are not caused by malicious acts, they result from an insensitivity to the consequences of one's actions and from a lack of knowledge regarding low impact practices, and
  3. enforcement of regulations is difficult in large and remote areas.

The National Outdoor Leadership School, founded in 1965 "to be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serve people and the environment", was approached to develop the minimal impact practices that were being developed into a single and consistent Leave No Trace program with a particular focus on non-motorised recreational activities.

NOLS' involvement in the Leave No Trace program continues today as LNT skills and ethics are included in NOLS programs around the world. NOLS also supports the continuing research into and refinement of minimal impact practices. A formal partnership was entered into between NOLS and the USFS to develop a written Leave No Trace educational curriculum. The Leave No Trace program was duly adopted by the four Federal land management agencies. Although NOLS provided successful leadership in guiding the development of the Leave No Trace program, a number of constraints remained on the program's growth including access to Federal funding and partnerships with other groups.

NOLS and the land management agencies recognised a need to involve outdoor product manufacturers, retail stores and education organisations in the LNT program. Accordingly Leave No Trace Inc was incorporated as a separate not for profit organisation in 1994. The organisation in the US is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado and has a staff of nine.

Core LNT literature includes the skills and ethics booklet series and LNT plastic reference tags that list the principles and statements dealing with low impact travelling and camping practices. Training opportunities include a five-day Masters Course, a two-day Trainer Course, LNT workshops and public contacts. The Leave No Trace mission is to promote and inspire responsible outdoor recreation through education, research and partnerships. While the mission has evolved from the program's origins having a focus on "wilderness" it has equal application to areas closer to large population centres. Research has shown that the greatest number and some of the most significant impacts occur in areas where we recreate on a daily or weekly basis, such as in local bush land and regional parks close to our cities. An important aspect of the Leave No Trace program in the US is its "Frontcountry program" which is aimed at minimising impacts in such local areas through partnership with local authorities.
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