Protecting The Environment: Trails Carolina Field Supervisor Explains Importance of ‘Leave No Trace’ Concept

When you think of a wilderness environment, you might have images in your mind of a forest, untouched by man. “Leave no trace” is the idea of keeping the wilderness environment as intact and pure as possible. As a wilderness therapy program, we believe that leaving as little a mark as possible on the environment is extremely important. Because of this, we have integrated this concept at every level within our programming. 

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Leave no trace instructions

Why is ‘Leave No Trace’ important?

There’s a metaphor that I like to use when I’m teaching students about the ‘Leave No Trace’ concept. Imagine you have an M&M cookie and you love to pick off and eat the M&Ms one by one. Once you’ve taken away so many M&Ms, the cookie has been changed drastically. It’s still a cookie, but it doesn’t have anything that once made it special. The same thing can be said about the environment if we take things away from it or damage it. Nature will always exist, but if we interfere with it too much, it won’t be the same ever again. That’s why implementing ‘Leave No Trace’ is so important. 
Without ‘leave no trace’, wilderness therapy and all the wonderful benefits we gain from spending time in nature could not continue as they do today.

How is ‘Leave No Trace’ implemented at Trails?

At Trails, we implement the concept of ‘Leave No Trace’ by teaching and carrying out several actions that make a positive impact on the environment. These include:

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Students dispose of waste in specifically designated bags.

  • Campsite sweeps: Before leaving a campsite, students and staff walk side by side through the entire campsite to look for any trash or food that may have been left behind.
  • Walking in single file lines: When moving between campsites, staff and students walk in a single file line in order to prevent damage to trees and plants. During travel, we keep talking to a minimum in order to not disturb nearby wildlife.
  • Scheduling camp visits ahead of time: In order to prevent using a specific campsite too often, we schedule out the use of campsites in advance.
  • Preserving nature: Leaving rocks and plants where we found them. Respecting wildlife and keeping a safe distance from animals.
  • Staff training: All staff undergo Leave No Trace training online.
  • Monitoring campsites: We consistently monitor campsites to prevent overuse.

How does ‘Leave No Trace’ help students grow?

At first, some students are hesitant to practice the ‘Leave No Trace’ activities carried out throughout programming. Many have never cared about the fragility of the environment and are not used to cleaning up after themselves at home. However, for many students, I see their views on this subject do a complete 180 during their time with us. They go from complaining about taking part in ‘Leave No Trace’ activities to leading them. 

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Students practicing Leave No Trace exercises

“As part of the next generation, nature is important,” says one student. “Sure we have technology and stuff, but it’s also nice to enjoy the wilderness and protect it because it’s where we live. We use this space as our living space and we need to take care of it as much as we can.”
At base camp, students continue to carry out the principles of leave no trace. When cleaning their living spaces such as bathrooms or their cabins, they are doing so to make sure the next group who visits base camp will come into a clean area.  
Students can take away important values from ‘Leave No Trace’ such as responsibility and respect for others. These values translate into habits in the ‘real world’. They learn the importance of leaving both the natural environment and living spaces exactly the way they found them.

Learn more about Trails Carolina

Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program for teens ages 10-17. Located amongst the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, our comprehensive therapeutic programming helps teens struggling with behavioral and emotional challenges such as anxiety, depression, school refusal, and defiance. If you’re interested in learning more about Trails Carolina, please call 800-975-7303.

Avatar of Jeremy Whitworth

Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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