Minimize Campfire Impacts

Don’t be “that guy”.  Learn how to properly Leave No Trace on the Appalachian Trail

Campfire sites in popular use areas like the A.T. tend to draw impact by encouraging trash deposits (people too often leave trash, thinking that “someone else will burn it”). Trees are often stripped of branches for firewood. High elevation ecosystems need woody debris recycling back into the soil to support new plant growth, and can’t tolerate firewood gathering.

Overuse of campfires leads to ashes building up and spreading outside of the fire pit, killing plants around for some distance around the hearth, and making a once-beautiful campsite less and less appealing. Unfortunately, most of us have seen many appealing, memorable beauty spots along the Trail turned into “pits” after fire rings have been built.

Minimizing campfire impacts starts with using a stove for cooking and carrying warm clothes and raingear, eliminating the need for a fire for either cooking or warmth. If you occasionally want a fire for ambience, build one only where it’s legal (check here and your guidebook), keep it small, and use an existing fire ring. No new fire rings, please. Leave hatchets and saws at home – collect dead and downed wood that you can break by hand. Burn all wood to ash – don’t leave logs or branches sticking out of the fire pit when leave, please.

Don’t try to burn trash, including foil, plastic, glass, cans, tea bags, coffee grounds, food, or anything with food on it. These items do not burn thoroughly. They create noxious fumes, attract wildlife like skunks and bears, and make the area unsightly. Lastly, you can help by leaving fire rings clean by removing others’ trash and scattering unused wood, which will help discourage unnecessary fire building. The firewood stays drier if left in the woods, anyway.

Thanks for doing what you can to minimize the impacts of campfires on the Appalachian Trail.

Tom Banks is an Appalachian Trail Conservancy volunteer.