Leave No Trace in the Middle of the Sea

Just a scenic ferry ride or a short flight from the northwest Washington mainland lies a paradise of sparkling blue waters, deep green forests, and a mellow island vibe. The beautifully enchanting San Juan Islands were selected as 1 of 8 Hot Spots across the United States. The 2014 Leave No Trace Hot Spot Initiative includes parks and/or managed lands that are literally being “loved to death” and the islands are no exception.  

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The San Juan Islands are a popular destination for visitors around the world. The area sees more than 800,000 visits a year and experiences visitor-created impacts in many areas. These impacts include littering, damage to vegetation and trees, trail erosion, walking in undesignated areas and feeding wildlife. The reasons these impacts happen are generally not due to malicious intent or a desire to harm nature and wildlife, rather it is simply a lack of Leave No Trace knowledge and skills.

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Thus, the incredibly passionate communities of San Juan County have banded together with Leave No Trace to help educate the community, raise awareness about nature areas facing irreversible environmental damage, and promote land stewardship to preserve the island’s beautiful landscapes for future generations to come. 

The San Juan Islands are unique in many ways and provide an abundance of outdoor adventure. There are 172 named islands and reefs in San Juan County, however San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island are the most populous and host the vast majority of designated parks and beaches. These public lands are managed between a wide range of entities from The San Juan Islands National Monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management, State Parks, National Park Service, San Juan County Parks, San Juan County Land Trust, and a number of others. Because the public lands are shared between so many entities, it has been difficult to provide visitors with a consistent message and education on how to enjoy the islands distinct and fragile ecosystems responsibly. 

In recognition of this issue and increasing impacts, the San Juan County Council has recently passed a countywide resolution that designates San Juan County as a Voluntary Leave No Trace Area. The County has subsequently adopted the Seven Leave No Trace Principles and guiding ethics as their official education initiative with the intention to establish a culture of stewardship in all people residing in and visiting the San Juan Islands.

To begin the process of education and inspiration, Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers Dani and Roland spent a week exploring the islands most visited and heavily impacted areas, hosting workshops with key figures within the land management agencies, local guides, environmental scientists, and energetic citizens in the community, as well as discussing how to integrate an all inclusive Leave No Trace program into the island culture.

San Juan Island | Interagency Training

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Orcas Island | Community Workshop

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Lopez Island | Business & Volunteer Training

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It was an amazing week full of thoughtful conversation, ethical debates, practical suggestions, and exciting planning for future Leave No Trace incorporation. The San Juan Islands is a truly magical experience, unparalleled to any place we have ever been. If you get a chance to leave the mainland and venture into island life - go explore the lush mountains, the deep sea, the genuine people, and remember to Leave No Trace of your visit. 

Ninjas for Nature - dani & roland 

Leave No Trace’s Dani and Roland Mott are part of the 2014 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, Coleman, Hi-Cone, REI, Smartwool and Yakima.