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Thursday, Aug 30 2012 11:00 PM

How to enjoy camping without leaving mess or hurting wildlife

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    Kim Bean

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By KIM BEAN

With Labor Day approaching, many Californians will travel to our state parks to mark the official "end" of summer. California is blessed to have more than 250 beautiful parks to visit, from beaches to mountains to deserts, depending on one's interest. These parks give us a glimpse of the beauty of our planet and an opportunity to rest, relax, and enjoy family and friends.

That being said, I would like to take this opportunity to remind my fellow Californians that we have a responsibility to the planet and to one another to be kind and respectful of these parks. On behalf of the paid staff and volunteer camp hosts, I would like to take this opportunity to offer some guidelines when visiting these parks.

Litter is a huge problem this year, more so than last year. In an effort to save money, the state cut funding to most parks and many parks were slated to close this year. (Of course, in the interim, $54 million was "found," but that is a subject for another letter.)

Needless to say, these cuts affected parks in decreased staffing and limited resources. This translates to limited staff availability to clean up a campsite after a camper checks out of the park, and most parks rely heavily on the volunteer camp hosts to pick up the slack. No one is really interested in seeing used floss sticks and Q-tips left in a campsite. Even the smallest corners of those Hersey bars can have a huge impact. Hiding those bottles and cans in the bushes isn't necessarily being clever. Most of the time we find them, but not always, so sometimes they remain there for others to "enjoy." If you brought it in, please take it out. Smokers, please dispose of those cigarette butts in the proper receptacles. Leaving them on the ground is unsightly and dangerous to wildlife and curious children.

Parents, use this opportunity to teach your children to be respectful of the campground and the earth. Allowing the defacing of the property with chalk may be fun for the kids and be a great way to keep them occupied, but it does detract from the natural beauty of the parks and it will require an already stretched staff to clean the area when you leave. Water balloons are fun, but the latex fragments which are left can be dangerous to the wildlife as well. Teaching them to put those cellophane wrappers from their juice boxes in the garbage will become a lifelong habit.

Dogs are always welcome, but please pick up after them. Not only is leaving the droppings the sign of an irresponsible pet owner, it can be a health issue for other dogs. California State Parks requires that your dog is leashed at all times. This is for your protection as well as the protection of others. You may feel comfortable with your dog's behavior, but things can escalate and get quickly out of hand with strange dogs. It is best not to risk it.

Finally, a camping trip isn't complete without the warmth and coziness of a roaring fire. Please be careful with your fire -- this is one of the driest years on record. Wood is available from your camp host if you didn't bring your own. Please do not cut your own from the trees around you. It can damage the trees, and the wood won't burn anyway since it hasn't been cured. The wood sales are another way to support your local parks, as that money is used locally for park improvements and educational programs.

As for those people wearing the volunteer shirts, remember they are giving their time and energy back to the community to make your park visit just a little nicer, and we work hard to make that happen. But we need your help.

Please, come and have a wonderful time making memories with your friends and families. But when you are ready to leave, take a look around and ask yourself if you would want to come to a campsite that looked the way you left this one.

Kim Bean of Bakersfield, a retired OB-GYN nurse, is a volunteer with California State Parks.

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