How to Leave No Trace in the San Juan Islands

Lopez Island, WA: San Juan County is the first Leave No Trace county in the nation. This designation came about because of a dedicated and passionate group of locals, who wanted to protect and steward these special islands they call home. Today, different agencies, organizations, citizens, businesses, and local leaders have committed to integrating Leave No Trace into every aspect of the islands. Their hope is to educate and inspire the one million annual visitors to Leave No Trace during their next visit. 

Here are a few steps you can take to help Leave No Trace next time you are on the San Juan Islands

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare - Visiting the San Juan Islands takes a lot of planning. Make sure to check the ferry schedule and weather before leaving the mainland. Bring reusable items to minimize your waste, like a growler to fill up at Island Hopping brewing! Use a bike, walk, or kayak around the islands instead of driving. 

2. Stick to the Trails and Camp Overnight Right - The San Juan Islands boast some very special, and sensitive, plant communities. On the islands' rocky shores, you can find delicate lichens, mosses, and even cacti. Make sure to stick to the trails to protect the unique San Juan flora, preserving it for years to come. 

3. Trash your Trash and Pick Up Poop - Shipping a bag of trash out of the islands can cost up to eight dollars. Make sure to pack out your trash, especially micro-trash, and try to avoid single use items like plastic water bottles. Protect water sources  by packing out dog waste, and when kayaking, think about packing out your human waste when you can't find a proper toilet. 

4. Leave It as You Find it - While visiting the San Juans, remember that you are sharing these islands with another million visitors. Help preserve the "wow" factor for others, and leave your mark by leaving places better than you found them. Make sure to deconstruct rock and driftwood forts before leaving the beach. Take pictures of shells, artifacts, and wildflowers instead of taking them home with you. 

5. Be Careful with Fire - If you are going to enjoy a campfire on the archipelago, make sure to do it responsibly. Use established fire rings and don't burn food or trash in your fire. Instead of driftwood, which provides crucial habitat, buy wood from a safe source that won't transport unwanted, invasive species onto the Islands. 

6. Respect Wildlife - The San Juan Islands are home to some incredibly special creatures, like the Southern Resident Orcas. Make sure you know how much space you need to give whales, as well as other protected species and habitats.  It's further than you think!

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors - With one million annual visitors sharing these Islands, it is so important for us to be considerate and kind to each other. Be patient during ferry delays and long lines, lend a helping hand to those in need, smile, and do your best to set an example of how to Leave No Trace while exploring the magical beaches, forests, meadows, and water ways of the San Juan Islands. 

Have fun.  Be Safe.  Leave No Trace.

Leave No Trace’s Alex Roberts and Emy Gelb are part of the 2016 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Fjall Raven, ENO, Deuter, Thule, Taxa Outdoors and SmartWool.