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Leave No Trace program teaches children sustainable appreciation of the outdoors

With the introduction of its Leave No Trace initiative, Visit Mountaineer Country Convention & Visitors’ Bureau will join a nationwide effort to educate children on respecting, appreciating and conserving the natural world.

Last year, Visit Mountaineer Country CVB President and CEO Susan Riddle attended the West Virginia Governor’s Conference on Tourism, during which spokespeople for Leave No Trace sparked the idea for a collaboration between Visit Mountaineer Country CVB, the West Virginia State Tourism Department, the West Virginia Board of Education and Leave No Trace.

Leave No Trace is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to informing the public on land protection and restoration. Schools and other community groups across the country have adapted Leave No Trace strategies for hundreds of education programs annually.

The Visit Mountaineer Country CVB aims to work with local schools in using LNT’s educational standards to help students spend time outdoors while staying aware of the impact they leave behind. These lessons will also inform students on the economic value of the tourism industry and West Virginia’s natural resources, and thus the importance of preserving the land for future generations.

“Our objectives are to give elementary-aged children the knowledge and tools to be good stewards of our natural resources and outdoor spaces, and hopefully to better inform them of the assets and job opportunities that the tourism industry offers,” said Visit Mountaineer Country CVB Destination Development Coordinator Kathryn Carter.

Fifth-grade classes in Mon, Preston and Taylor counties will spend 30 minutes to an hour learning about the vital role they play in enjoying and preserving the beautiful world around them, the potential for a career in West Virginia’s ever-growing tourism industry, and how they can use environmental preservation strategies in their daily lives. The Leave No Trace class also meets several ELA, Science and Social Studies College and Career Readiness Standards for fifth-grade students.

The seven principles of Leave No Trace — plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors — is the highlight of the class, and will be conveyed through interactive activities using tools like LEGO or coloring pages.

“Obviously we want the kids to remember the principles, but even if they don’t remember every single one specifically, we want them to realize that they have a role in protecting and preserving our resources for locals like themselves as well as visitors to our state parks and trails,” said Visit Mountaineer Country CVB Destination Developer Coordinator Stella Hehnly. “Being kind and courteous to the land early in their life is going to let us still have those resources in the future.”

Students, now certified outdoor stewards, will receive a Leave No Trace certificate, badges that remind them of the seven principles, and a newfound inspiration to care for the planet. By the end of December, this pilot program is set to run in at least one class in Mon, Preston and Taylor counties, respectively. Following the success of this trial, the short-term goal is to then implement it in all Mon, Preston and Taylor fifth-grade classes, then to expand to the rest of the elementary schools in Mountaineer Country, including Marion, Barbour, Harrison and Doddridge counties. The long-term goal, though? Working with the West Virginia Department of Tourism to adapt an environmental awareness class for schools throughout the state. 

“For us at the CVB, the program is going to be successful because these kids are going to be our future leaders, so we want them to be knowledgeable in protecting the assets that make Mountaineer Country so special,” said Hehnly.

As the first initiative of its type by Visit Mountaineer Country CVB, this class has plenty of potential to inspire in students a newfound love for the unique environment the Mountain State has to offer. 

“This all began because this education is super-important for individuals, and it’s important for our industry to teach them because we depend on the next generation of West Virginians to take care of things like our parks, forests and waterways, and those serve as key economic drivers for our communities,” said Carter.

The first Leave No Trace classes are planned to be held by January 2024, then expand to the rest of Mountaineer Country in the coming year, paving the way for future statewide efforts.