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Resolutions to take to the outdoors for the rest of the year

The dawn of a new year is a time of excitement: an opportunity to put behind the past and to look forward to what the new year will bring. It’s a time of hope and a moment for boldly striding forward with new resolve and inspiration as January arrives each year. Did you make any New Years Resolutions? Are you still keeping them?

I usually go for a first day walk on New Year’s Day. Sometimes the day is blustery and other times it is mild. But it’s always an occasion for celebration. Standing outdoors to watch the first sunrise of the new year is a perfect moment for meditation. It’s a time to pause and reflect, but more importantly, it’s a reason to make plans for how the new year will unfold in my life: time to make a New Year’s resolution or two.

This year, my resolutions were inspired by a pledge I took last January when I visited Iceland. The hardy folks of Iceland make their point directly to visitors.

When folks arrive at Keflavik Airport, they are greeted with a large billboard sign inside the terminal. It’s one of the first things people see when they arrive in that beautiful and pristine land. The Icelandic government throws out the challenge to pause right there at the airport to take the pledge. The billboard lights up with the number of other visitors who have already taken the challenge.

The Icelandic Pledge is straightforward:

I PLEDGE TO BE A RESPONSIBLE TOURIST.

WHEN I EXPLORE NEW PLACES, 

I WILL LEAVE THEM AS I FOUND THEM.

I WILL TAKE PHOTOS TO DIE FOR, 

WITHOUT DYING FOR THEM.

I WILL FOLLOW THE ROAD INTO THE UNKNOWN, 

BUT NEVER VENTURE OFF THE ROAD.

AND I WILL ONLY PARK WHERE I AM SUPPOSED TO.

WHEN I SLEEP OUT UNDER THE STARS, 

I’LL STAY WITHIN A CAMPSITE.

AND WHEN NATURE CALLS, 

I WON’T ANSWER THE CALL ON NATURE.

I WILL BE PREPARED FOR ALL WEATHERS, 

ALL POSSIBILITIES AND ALL ADVENTURES.

There is a lot to like in that pledge, so this year, with that inspiration, I challenged myself to live all year long in that manner. Here are my pledges, not just for Jan 1, but for every day of the year.

I will be a good steward of the land

I will be ever mindful that the land I love is only as good as how we care for it. Good stewardship should be a goal of every person who steps outside. And I will do my part.

The term “land stewardship” is commonly used in discussions about conservation.

It involves protecting a property’s natural resources over a long period of time.

For those of us who enjoy our state’s public areas, our government agencies such as the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources take on that challenge on our behalf. Our public lands are managed so that they are protected for years to come. Good private landowners also protect their properties in much the same manner.

I will look down at the ground on a walk and notice the fascinating ground-level wonders of nature. Fern fronds unroll in the spring. Tiny wildflowers bloom. Mushrooms poke their varied noses into the air from below the moist ground.

I will walk quietly in the woods and listen for the sounds of birds and other wildlife. Songbirds sing every dawn to greet the day. Turkeys rustle through the leaf cover as they browse along the base of stately trees. A whitetail doe peeks out with curiosity from the brush undercover of a forest edge.

I will stand on a mountaintop and gaze with wonder from a vista at the varied environments below.

Fish, hunt, hike, farm. We can all do our parts to ensure that these same opportunities continue into the future, if we resolve to. And resolve to do my part.

Aldo Leopold is considered by many to be the “father” of modern conservation theory and practice. Leopold wrote that all ethics rest upon the single premise “…that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, animals, or collectively: the land.”

Now, that is a concept I support.

Pack it in; pack it out

I resolve to bring my trash out of the woods with me when I leave.

We all bring things with us into the outdoors: water bottles, tick repellent, food, camping supplies. These are all things that are necessary to our comfort during our visit.

But, as it came into the outdoors with us, it should leave the outdoors with us.

And to further the cause, I will bring a small trash bag and when I see someone else’s trash, I will stop, pick it up, and bring it with me.

The basket on the front of my bike works well for small items I find along the Pine Creek Rail Trail when I ride. Others carry things back in their “bike trunk.” However you do it, if we all do it, things will be better for us having been there. So, join me.

I am setting a goal for myself. Whenever I am outside, if I see trash, I will pick it up and bring it to the nearest trash receptacle. I want to make sure that when you visit soon after me,

that you won’t have to see it or remove it.

I will stay on the trail

This is a simple one. Trails make it easier to go where we want in the woods.

But sometimes trails are winding and circuitous, so I understand how you might want to bushwhack to your destination in the shortest way possible.

But I saw devastating problems when I visited Iceland.

There were few trails there. And visitors tended to strike out on their own and make their own path.

Vast natural areas were shut down when we visited because of damage to the eco system there.

Erosion was taking its toll and natural vegetations were severely damaged.

Likewise, if you have visited the Pine Creek Gorge and hiked the Turkey Path trail from Leonard Harrison State Park to the Pine Creek Rail Trail, you have seen the effects of not staying on the trail. The Turkey Path is a beautifully constructed trail and even has wooden walkways in places to help people enjoy their visit. To lessen the steepness of the trail, there are multiple switchbacks up the mountainside.

But visitors have strayed off the trail in many places. And during my visits there, I often see people off trail and on the waterfall rocks or taking the direct route up the side of the mountain. I understand the draw, but not only is it dangerous, it causes erosion and damage.

I vow to stay on the trail.

I will respect the wildlife I see

Part of the call of being in the outdoors, for me, is the chance of seeing and photographing wildlife. In this age of long lens photography, I have the chance of making stunning close up photographs of animals in the wild.

But how close is too close when I photograph wildlife? I understand the desire to be closer, to get the best photo possible. It is exciting when you come across an eagle or whitetail buck, or a black bear.

It’s even more exciting to see a rare visitor to our area. A few years ago, a snowy owl visited Bradford County for a few months. Its presence drew thousands of photographers from all over several states to try to photograph it.

But, shortly after its arrival, life on the farm there became chaotic. Visitors trespassed into the farm fields. The bird was soon spooked by the number of people invading its personal space. It retreated further and further into the back corners of the fields. And visitors then tried to move closer again to see it.

That cycle was repeated over and over and none of it was good for the snowy owl. But the farmer who opened his land to visitors, was also saddened by the damage to his farm.

We can all do our part to take the pledge to be the visitor who respects private property and who protects the personal space of all wildlife we encounter.

I will help the cause for conservation

We can support our local natural resources with a financial contribution to our favorite cause.

There are numerous organizations who work hard to make our outdoor communities better. Become a supporter either in a one-time contribution or on an ongoing basis.

If financial support isn’t for you, then consider volunteering. All of our state and federal parks need volunteers. Local organizations also need volunteers. Help stock trout in our local streams. Help plant seedlings. Volunteer to help maintain one of our many trails with a trail organization. Work an outdoor event as a volunteer.

But there is more we all can do. Some of our streams are threatened by invasive species that can be spread by humans. These species can be spread throughout the areas we most love.

I vow to do a series of simple things that will make a difference in keeping our area great and I share some ideas here. Invasive species, like Didymo, a type of algae that forms dense mats at the bottom of freshwater streams, can be spread by our boots or fishing waders. Anglers are encouraged to give up their felt-soled waders because these invasive organisms can easily attach to felt. Cleaning our gear before we move it to other waters can make a big difference.

The same is true for those of us who bike and hike. We can also unknowingly bring these same invasive species along with us if we don’t practice good conservation ethics.

Likewise, transporting firewood from one area to another can bring along trouble. Firewood can host many invasive things, like the emerald ash borer. Currently, lanternflies are being seen in the southeastern part of the state. If you travel from that area, check your vehicles and equipment for any that are riding along. Soon, we will be faced with lanternfly moving into our area, but we can help stem the tide of the invasion with personal resolutions to be conscientious with our habits. I will.

I will invest in kids

As a family, we walk. The last time we were in Benezette for the weekend with the grandkids and kids, we did a lot outdoors. We taught the grandkids to skip rocks in the river. We looked for birds –and elk — on our walks. We fished in the mighty Sinnemahoning River with the grandkids. Our little ones freely use my camera to record their memories. And of course, we talk about conservation and good outdoor ethics.

What you teach a child today will make a difference for our environment tomorrow. Set a date on your calendar to get outdoors. Make a list of your favorite places to see and go visit them.

“We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; we borrow it from our Children” is an ancient Native American proverb.

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year does just that. I pledge here in Pennsylvania just as I did in Iceland to be a responsible “tourist”.

I resolved to be a responsible person on our planet. And to do my part that that our children may inherit a good Earth.

And I have one last New Year’s Resolution. And that is to keep mine this year, every day of the year. The year is still young. Join me. It’s not too late.

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