Cheaha State Park naturalist Mandy Pearson talks to outdoors folk Saturday about how they can in turn teach others to tread lightly on public lands.

MOUNT CHEAHA — More than 15 Boy Scouts, scout leaders, educators and others camped out Friday night at Cheaha State Park to attend a two-day course which focused on protecting and promoting wilderness ethics Saturday morning.

Park naturalist Mandy Pearson helped teach what’s known as a Leave No Trace trainer course to tell educators and guides about ways that people can co-exist with the land. The course concludes Sunday.

The aim, Pearson said, is “finding a way for humans to live in harmony with the land so that we aren't destroying the land and the land doesn't destroy us either.”

Pearson said Leave No Trace is an environmental education program that was adopted at the park five years ago and has seven core principles.

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impact
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

Pearson said the park is a “gold-level” site for Leave No Trace and that only 10 facilities have integrated the program into their mission across the nation, such as Acadia National Forest, Shenandoah National Park and the San Juan Islands.

“So little ol’ Cheaha is right up there,” Pearson said with a grin.

Skip Essman, an advocate for Leave No Trace and a trainer for the weekend course credited Pearson with the success of the program.

“Put it this way, I banged my head against the wall for about 10 years with the folks in Montgomery at the State Parks and could never get nowhere, and one day I get a phone call and it’s Mandy Pearson,” Essman said.

Essman said that Pearson wanted to integrate the park with Leave No Trace and told her, ”Good, because I’ve been trying to do it for 10 years, maybe you can get it accomplished.”

The two got together in what Pearson called “teamwork” and now the program is statewide.

“We’re one of maybe two or three states that all of the state parks are partnered with the program, she did all of that,” Essman told the attendees.

A roaring fire in a old pavilion built of heavy stones by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s kept the participants warm as various workshops and presentations commenced touting the values of Leave No Trace.

One of the trainers for the course, Kathy Smith of Montgomery, told the group that it’s important to teach Leave No Trace at an early age. Smith is a District Commissioner with the Boy Scouts of America Tukabatchee Area Council.  

“If we don’t train our youth today to make right choices then as they get old they’ll be the ones throwing cans out of window,” Smith said.

“You have to train them now ... they’re not born knowing how to do this,” Smith said.

Smith said that Leave No Trace is basically finding ways to keep the environment as pristine as possible for future generations.

“Theodore Roosevelt set aside land to save for future generations,” Smith said as she gazed at the hardwoods in the forest next to the pavillion.

“If he hadn't, I feel like a lot of our land, the trees, would have been cut down and gone,” Smith said.

Amber Wilson of Decatur said she was attending the course because she wants to blend the concept of Leave No Trace into the museum she works for. She said that the Cook Museum of Natural Science will open this summer in Decatur and thought the course would help her to inspire people of how amazing Alabama’s natural diversity is.

“By taking Leave No Trace we’ll be able to offer trainer courses and offer awareness workshops and just get people excited about protecting the beautiful biodiversity that Alabama has,” Wilson said.

​Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.