Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Memorial Day Weekend: Reminder to recreate responsibly

| May 25, 2023 1:00 AM

Keeping Idaho’s outdoors pristine and being a good neighbor when you’re out enjoying it is something we can all take pride in.

The long-awaited delight that rewards and reenergizes those who developed a heated bitterness towards winter is finally upon us — Memorial Day weekend. Thousands of outdoor-minded folks crawl out of their winter hibernation hoping to soak up the sun’s rays.

The recreational gems of this state are different for everyone. For some it’s throwing a hook and bobber out into a vast reservoir. For others, it’s camping at a state park or out in the backcountry high up in the timber, the smoke from a half dozen campfires merging above the trees and floating down a river canyon. And for some it’s shredding one’s legs just to see what life lies above the next granite, tree-less ridge.

But as the sunlight wanes on another memorable Memorial Day weekend, so too does the adventure of every like-minded outdoors person. With a well-soaked fire, a bag full of trash and head full of adventure, we funnel back to where we came from and, hopefully, give thought to the fortune of living in the most beautiful and untamed state in the Lower 48.

Idahoans cherish the outdoors and fight to keep it clean and wild. Look around. There aren’t a whole lot of states as untouched and undisturbed — and it’s best we keep it that way.

As we dive into Memorial Day weekend, keep these principles tucked somewhere accessible in your mental storage tote and remember one thing: Respecting the outdoors and your fellow recreationists makes better holidays.

It doesn’t just apply to your neighbor down the Forest Service road, the boater on the far side of the lake or the out-of-state family experiencing the Sawtooths for the first time; it applies to everyone. Keeping Idaho’s outdoors pristine and being a good neighbor when you’re out enjoying it is something we can all take pride in, and we can protect the outdoor experience as well as the land.

Know Before You Go

By now, many recreation sites will be open, but you should always do some digging and plan ahead before you just drive out to some deep pocket of the backcountry.

Winter took its toll on the landscape, and there are still many areas — especially higher elevation — where snowpack has barely receded. Call your local U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or Idaho Fish and Game office to get up-to-date information on road and trail closures.

Even if some roads are accessible, that doesn’t mean they are clear of potential hazards. Use caution when traveling along narrow forest service roads.

Washouts present a major hazard as spring runoff erodes riverbanks, taking with it slabs of road. Earlier this month, a road on the Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area in the Clearwater Region gave way to heavy spring runoff, while another road along the Boise River’s north fork caved in, taking with it a person’s pickup.

Remember, many trails have not been cleared of downfall and debris put there over winter, so pick your trails carefully and avoid muddy trails where even hiking can cause damage.

Heaven knows we’re excited to get out, but be prepared for potential delays to any weekend destinations that may not be as ready as you are.

Howdy, Neighbor

When it comes to the outdoor season, we’d all like a little isolation in some picturesque spot. But most forest service roads or campgrounds don’t work like that. The reality is, you probably will be in earshot of someone else, so keep them in mind and hopefully they will be doing the same for you.

No one wants to hear their camping neighbors firing off a 21-gun .22-caliber salute at dawn, or a blaring boombox at 1 in the morning.

It might sound a little hypocritical: You’re going out into nature to have a fun time, after all, and that might mean a wagon train of five RVs parked in one helicopter pad-sized chunk of public land. A few beers later and out come the cornhole boards and Bluetooth speakers.

But a short ways away might be a family who is taking their 8-year-old camping and fishing for the first time, an experience that’s challenging enough without the burden of engine revving and gunfire.

Camping is different for everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with having a good old time with friends and family. But be mindful of the good times of other folks you might be spoiling with bad outdoor etiquette.

You Pack It In, You Pack It Out

If this seems like a no-brainer, it unfortunately isn’t. Every outdoor season, hundreds of Idaho campsites — both designated and dispersed — as well as roadways and beaches are left paying the price of irresponsible and selfish people. It’s one of the most inexcusable, infuriating acts someone who aligns themselves with the outdoor community can commit.

Memorial Day, or any day for that matter, that patch of forest or desert is our temporary outdoor home. With the long drive over, we survey the carefully chosen, vacant lot with pride, set to work unfolding the plastic table and camp chairs, then reach straight for the cooler. But that moment of relaxation is quickly stifled when your Lab comes back with a wad of toilet paper in its mouth.

No one’s idea of a memorable weekend in the backwoods is spending the first quarter of it picking up someone else’s trash from the weekends before. (Although those who do take one for the team, you are much appreciated.)

If you have space for a 30-rack of beer, you have room for a trash bag.

It isn’t rocket science, folks. You bring it in, you bring it out. Something the age-old outdoor adage forgets to leave in is ownership. It’s ain’t somebody else’s problem. It starts with all of us. And if it’s your stuff to begin with, it’s your stuff to go home with.

Report Illegal Activity, But Don’t Intervene

Outdoorsmen and women are the eyes and ears of the backcountry when Fish and Game conservation officers can’t be present. Remember the old saying? Character is who we are when no one’s looking. It’s pretty easy to escape eyes when you’re in Idaho’s backwoods. For those who witness something sketchy or illegal, report it, but don’t directly confront people doing it.

Being a good witness not helps Fish and Game officers and other officers, it ultimately increases the likelihood that the violator abusing Idaho’s wildlife resources is held accountable. If you see a suspicious scene, take these three steps:

Document as much as you can, including taking photos and saving GPS locations.

Focus on the suspect and be specific. Unique descriptions, such as license plates, facial hair and tattoos, can be incredibly helpful for officers.

Call it in as soon as you’re able. The longer it takes for the information to get to an officer, the harder it is to investigate the case.

Don’t let scenery blind you from the big picture

There is a reason so many people want to come to Idaho to live or to visit, recreate, fish and hunt and experience true wildness. We’re living on a continent where wilderness is becoming harder and harder to seek out, let alone having it right outside our backdoor.

Despite its prestige and awe for the rugged wildlands found here in the Great State of Idaho, we cannot take it for granted. If we expect to welcome and hand off this magnificent state to the next generation of hunters, anglers and outdoorsfolk, we shouldn’t leave them with a fire ring full of garbage.

Memorial Day weekend is an important time to remind people getting outdoors to camp and recreate that being responsible and courteous is not just for this weekend, but for all your outdoor outings yet to come.

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