Leave It Better Than You Found It

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During the summer of 2017, my girlfriend and I had visited Glacier National Park in Montana. Towards the end of our trip we both wanted to get a t-shirt from the park representing Glacier itself. After searching through all the gift shops and visitor centers, I found a shirt that seemingly had nothing do to with the park at all, at least at first glance. It was a nice charcoal gray shirt that read in big letters Leave It Better Than You Found It. Because of my commitment to preserving the photography locations I visit, I knew right then and there I had to purchase this shirt despite it’s rather expensive price tag. Whenever I wear it out in public people either compliment it or question what it means. When they do ask, I find it a perfect time to educate them on this principle.

Glacier National Park, Montana.

Within the last few years, I have noticed more trash and vandalism in these wild lands. As nature and landscape photographers, we are stewards of the lands we photograph and explore. It is important for us to help by picking up after ourselves and practicing leave no trace guidelines. We should also educate others who may not be aware of  these principles. I don’t mind cleaning up another’s mess in photography locations if it means a better experience for someone else. This is the meaning behind the statement Leave It Better Than You Found It. It’s also how I explain to people who ask how you can leave something better than it was found.

A pristine-looking photography location on the Lower Salt River in Arizona

Lower Salt River, Arizona.

The photo above illustrates a perfect example of seeing only the most beautiful aspects of a place. The lower salt river in Arizona is an incredibly beautiful area and is home to plentiful wildlife. From Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, the river is open to tubing. This brings plenty of people who just want to party in the cool water on hot days. Unfortunately it isn’t rare to see piles of trash, clothes, and most of all, beer cans and bottles along the banks of the river. Remnants of those party goers floating down the river.

From where I was standing to take the above photo, I could have filled at least two trash bags with garbage. This isn’t just a local issue either. I have noticed it as far as Glacier and, although not as bad, it still happens. During winter months when snow play areas are open to sledding, remains of cheap plastic sleds are piled up and left as trash. We can all do our part to help educate others and, if needed, do some cleaning ourselves.

Trash isn’t the only issue. Now, more than ever, it seems like vandalism is becoming the norm. When I visited Zion National Park in November of 2015, I wandered around washes that seemed wild and devoid of human activity. Just last year when visiting, the walls within the same washes were covered in graffiti. Donnie+Dianna, Tay+Lee, and even Love Trump followed by an expletive carved above.

It doesn’t stop with just carving names into stone either. There are a handful of incidents where rock formations have been destroyed in places like Oregon and Utah. The leave no trace website has included some updated information regarding the effects of social media and the outdoors that is well worth reading. You can find that information in addition to all of the other leave no trace principles at WWW.LNT.ORG.

A stream in Zion National Park highlighted with yellow leaves presents a gorgeous photography location

Zion National Park, Utah.

The shirt mentioned at the beginning of this article was purchased from the Parks Project. Proceeds from each item sold goes towards funding projects within the parks that may have been underfunded. You can find out more about their products and story behind their mission. You can also see all the projects they have been a part of at http://www.parksproject.us. Another really neat brand is Let’s Keep It Wild. Not only do they make some awesome products, but they have ways to give back and help keep places wild. They often have wilderness cleanup events that you can sign up for on their website. To date, communities have gathered over 90k pounds of trash from wild places. Find out more about them and how to join their cleanup events at www.keepitwildco.com.

Let’s all do our part to leave our photography locations better than we found them.

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About Author Peter Coskun

I am a professional photographer based out of the Sonoran desert of Arizona. I've been fortunate to explore and wander the southwest for the majority of my life. Having grown up in the suburbs of Philadelphia as a child, I wasn't quite familiar with the outdoors or nature for that matter. Aside from flipping through Nat Geo magazines during class, I wasn't sure if any of this stuff actually existed. After moving across the country to the desert I soon found myself exploring the desert landscape. I became fascinated by the flora and fauna as well as seeing the rugged mountains for the first time. Soon enough, I picked up a camera and began to document my explorations. I began to look at the scenery in a different way, studying how the light and weather worked with the landscape. It became more and more enjoyable for me, and one day someone asked to purchase a print. As they say, the rest is history right? I've been fortunate to have my work printed in such publications as Arizona Highways Magazine and Digital Photo Mag UK as well as many online publications.