Leave No Trace was incorporated as a 501(c)(3), nonprofit organization in 1994, though the Leave No Trace concept is over a half-century old. Care, responsibility and stewardship for the outdoors is not a new idea. Many Native American and Indigenous cultures teach and embody stewardship values, and have done so for eons.
In 1987, a “no trace” program was formed for wilderness and backcountry travel. The U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management cooperatively distributed a pamphlet entitled “Leave No Trace Land Ethics.” In the early 1990s, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) was enlisted to develop hands-on, science-based minimum impact education training for non-motorized recreational activities. Then, in 1993, an Outdoor Recreation Summit with land management agencies, NGOs and members of the outdoor industry convened in Washington DC to form an independent Leave No Trace organization. Leave No Trace, Inc., was incorporated in 1994.
The organization, now known as the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, develops and expands Leave No Trace training and educational resources. The Leave No Trace Center conducts important research that impacts public lands and the general public. It engages with a diverse range of partners from the federal land management agencies and outdoor industry corporations to nonprofit environmental and outdoor organizations and youth-serving groups.
In 1994, the Center entered into the first of a series of Memorandums of Understandings with four primary federal land management agencies including the United States Department of Agriculture — Forest Service and the United States Department of the Interior — Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service. Recently, the United States Army Corps of Engineers joined these federal land management agencies. In 2007, the National Association of State Parks Directors, the governing organization for state parks in the United States, and the Center developed a formal affiliate partnership to expand the possible use of the Leave No Trace program on state park lands.
Today, the Leave No Trace program reaches over 15 million Americans and dozens of countries each year with conservation initiatives, education, training, research and outreach. Corporate partners, individual members, foundation support, and the sales of Leave No Trace educational materials provide the primary support for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.
A national, volunteer-based Board of Directors made up of leaders from the outdoor industry, national youth-serving organizations, nonprofit organizations, and the scientific community provide strategic leadership and set policy. A staff headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, carry out the organization’s programs and mission-related work.
As the Leave No Trace office is located in Boulder, Colorado, we as a staff would like to acknowledge this area as the traditional territories of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute), and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux) peoples. More information about the history of these lands can be found here.