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Jeff Marion leads efforts to minimize visitor impacts on recreational areas


Slot canyon Jeff Marion (left) leads a group of Venture Crew members on an outing in central Utah’s canyon country. Marion takes the group, composed of high school students, on local outings once a month and on a western trip each summer.

May 15, 2015 – With “Leave No Trace” as his mantra, Jeff Marion is having a major influence on recreation areas and the management of natural resources for recreational use in a sustainable manner.

“America’s parks, forests, and wildlife refuges preserve some of the most spectacular scenery and pristine natural environments in the world, but recreational use by millions of people each year can have a negative impact,” said Marion, who has been conducting research on visitor impacts and developing science-based management strategies for more than 30 years.

Marion, a recreation ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and an adjunct professor in the college since 1989, was a founding member of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics board of directors and spent a decade as chair of its Educational Review Committee, helping to develop Leave No Trace principles, outdoor practices, courses, and educational materials.

He authored a comprehensive guide that is a resource for federal and state land management agencies, recreation and conservation organizations, communities, and the general public. “Leave No Trace in the Outdoors,” released in July 2014, details the core principles of Leave No Trace ethics and practices.

“The challenge is that different recreational activities — hiking, climbing, mountain biking, caving — have different practices. And different environmental settings — mountains, forests, deserts, wetlands — require different practices,” Marion explained.

The book not only deals with different uses and settings but takes backcountry ethics to the front country — day-use, close-to-home sites, “right down to walking the dog,” he said.

In 2013, one of China’s leading scientists on the management and preservation of forest ecosystems sought Marion’s expertise and invited him to visit the country. In return, Marion hosted a visit by three Chinese scholars to the U.S. to meet park managers, visit park sites, and talk with officials in several agencies.

With support from the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Geological Survey, Marion conducted research in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness last summer. He measured 100 of the area’s 2,200 campsites, examining soil and vegetation impacts and tree damage and regeneration, and assessing campsite sustainability. He had measured the same 100 campsites as part of his doctoral research at the University of Minnesota in 1982.

The research was presented at the National Wilderness Conference in October 2014, which marked the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Marion also presented two invited journal papers — published in a special wilderness issue of the Journal of Forestry — that review 50 years of recreation ecology research in wilderness and how it has been applied to mitigate visitor impacts.

In 2015, Marion begins a three-year study to characterize and help reduce the impact of the millions of hikers on the trail tread, campsites, and shelters of the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail. With funding from the National Park Service, Marion will assess and evaluate the sustainability of trail alignments, campsite locations, and management practices. His goal is to write a book on the art and science of sustainable trail design and management.

“Park, forest, and refuge managers face new challenges from increasing visitation and as surrounding lands are further developed,” Marion concluded. “Scientific research can yield improved Best Management Practices to design and manage more sustainable outdoor facilities such as trails and campsites, and low-impact recreational practices for visitors that allow managers to avoid and minimize the negative impacts of visitation.”

    CNRE Newsmagazine Spring 2015 Cover

Spring 2015

Leave No Trace principles

    Leave No Trace book cover
  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

Marion’s 2014 book on Leave No Trace principles is written using nontechnical language to reach a range of readers.

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