Thursday, May 5, 2011

Two hard working volunteers and I backpacked the Lost Coast Trail last week cleaning campsites, dismantling shelters, and pulling invasive plant species along the way. It was a great trip and we got a lot done to help restore wilderness characteristics and Leave No Trace values on the Lost Coast. We also got a great showing of wildflowers and saw 4 whales just off the coast from Shipman Creek, which was really exciting. Above, California Golden Poppies surround my brother and his lady friend at Spanish Flat.

At Miller Flat we hauled out more than 40 pounds of ocean garbage. All of this trash in the picture was hanging from trees and scattered throughout the campsites. I ask you to resist the urge to decorate your campsites with the maritime junk that you may find scattered along the shore. Let other visitors arrive to a clean and fresh campsite. Participating in “campsite decoration” is not in line with Leave No Trace ethics, which states that you should respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience. Or, in other words, as I have been taught: always leave a campsite cleaner than when you arrived.

We continued our journey north dismantling shelters along the way the best we could. I will give you a few reasons why we try to stay on top of the shelters and take them apart when we can:

1. Wood structures are great habitat for small rodents, especially structures that bring in a new supply of food every night. Our last night out we camped in a large structure near the Punta Gorda Lighthouse (the first time I have done this) and just before I crawled into my tent for the night I noticed a small mouse running around checking out all of our gear. It seemed well adjusted to humans because it was pretty much unphased by my presence as it ran between my legs and crawled up my backpack. In the morning my brother woke up to find mouse feces inside of his pack. Also, more than just a nuisance is the possibility of encountering the predator of the mouse: Snakes.

2. Large structures made out of dry wood are a fire hazard. We have had more than one incident of driftwood structures catching on fire. Not only can this easily cause a forest fire, but it is also a very real danger to you! Below is a scene I came across at Cooskie Creek that used to be a large shelter. We were lucky that it was an overcast day with no wind.

3. Driftwood structures don’t fit with wilderness characteristics that we manage for or Leave No Trace ethics. Section 2(c) of the 1964 Wilderness Act (don’t worry, I’m not going to get to technical) states that:

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the
landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are
untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of
wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land
retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human
habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which
(1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint
of man's work substantially unnoticeable…”

(You can look at the whole Act at

I understand that it can get very windy out on the Lost Coast. If you find that you need to build a small structure to escape the wind, ok. But, I ask you to please keep it small, don’t build onto existing structures, and PLEASE restore the site to its original condition by taking the drift wood back to where you found it. It is very easy for a small wind break to turn into a scene from Gilligan’s Island or Lord of the Flies as each visitor that camps at it builds a little more in an attempt to make some kind of “improvement.” Then, I get to come out there and spend several hours taking it all apart, restoring it to a more “natural” condition and often picking up pounds of trash that get hidden amongst the logs.

By practicing Leave No Trace you try to leave the most minimum impact possible.

Remember, there were people here before you and there will be people here after you. Do the right thing and help keep the Lost Coast clean and enjoyable for everyone.

Your Wilderness Ranger,


Call me if you have any questions at all: 707-986-5405.

If I'm not in contact Pam at our front desk: 707-986-5400.

PS, on a lighter note, check out great photography (above) and stories from Randy January who is a fellow backpacker and Lost Coast/King Range enthusiast:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link Paul, I feel famous now! ;-)

    I've thought a lot about the structures on the Lost Coast. At first, I admit to feeling a little disappointed about hearing that they were coming down, as it is sometimes really interesting to see what elaborate and functional creations people make out of what they find out there.

    As you've pointed out though, I have seen lots of trash shoved down in there, lots of little critters making these places their homes, and on my first trip I even saw one sputtering smoke as someone had lit a fire too close to one of the walls and had left it smoldering (thankfully there were a few bystanders with a bucket who were taking care of it).

    Also, I really had to think about what wilderness is, and how special that gift is to come across places that show very little influence of the hand of man. That's the main big draw of the Lost Coast; that it was spared the highway and the masses of people and houses. It really is a rare place.

    I may have to write about this on my blog as I think about it some more.