How to Leave No Trace When Recreating Near Water

May 17, 2022

Mammoth Lakes is home to many beautiful streams, rivers and lakes – it’s in the name! Not only are they easy on the eyes, they offer many recreational opportunities, from fishing and boating to swimming and even just relaxing at the beach. Keeping our water unpolluted is particularly important around Mammoth Lakes, as much of the water we recreate in or near is also the source of our drinking water. Read on to learn how easy it is to take extra good care of it.

Know Before You Go

Before you pack up your fishing gear or throw the kayak on top of the car, make sure you’re fully prepared for the adventure ahead by researching all the rules of the waterway you’re heading to. Here’s a list of all the things you should be thinking about before making that first splash:

Follow Sustainable Fishing Practices

To protect from overfishing, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) enforces its daily bag and possession limits, as well as catch and release policies. Before departing on your fishing outing, check the CDFW’s website for any regulations for the specific waterway you’re heading to, which could also include fishing methods and gear, fishing hours and the use of bait.
If you plan to throw your line from a boat, check if there are any required boat inspections before you launch, which help protect the Eastern Sierra’s water from infestations of invasive species. Even if you don’t have a boat, you can help protect our waters by thoroughly washing and drying your float tube and other equipment before entering the water.

Pack Up After Yourself & Your Pets

Whether driving or hiking to your water destination, when you leave there should be no evidence of your water adventure. Be especially diligent of any left behind fishing line, which is not only unsightly, but can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, and is harmful to wildlife. Because it is thin and clear, birds and other animals can’t see it and can become entangled or mistakenly ingest it, which can result in serious injury or death. 
You also need to be responsible for any toilet paper used for private matters when recreating near the water. When nature calls, be sure to follow proper pooping protocol by walking at least 200 feet (about 70 adult paces) away from the water. The same distance applies for #1s. Don’t forget you need to burry your #2s at least 6 inches deep.
Make sure there is no evidence of your pet’s presence as well. Pick up after them and dispose of it properly. If you forgot doggy bags, or run out (it happens), use the human distance and process to ensure it doesn’t contaminate the water.

Stay on the Trail & Tread Lightly

When trying to find the perfect fishing or launch spot for your paddle board or boat, keep the plants in mind – try not to trample them. Even though grassy areas might seem a bit softer, look for stable rocky or sandy areas to make your claim. Help keep the plants intact for animal food and housing, and to prevent the shore from unnecessarily eroding into the water.
Staying on an established trail also helps give plants a chance to thrive. But it’s not just plant life that suffers when you step off the trail. Cutting switchbacks can erode topsoil and make the land more prone to slides or rockfall. If you do need to step off the trail to use the bathroom, make sure you are treading lightly on areas that can handle the impact of your boots.
If backpacking to camp out near a lake or other water destination, follow the Leave No Trace guidelines and set up your camp at least 200 feet from the shoreline on a durable, plant-free surface.

Respect Wildlife

Plants aren’t the only part of nature that need us to be good stewards of the land. The wildlife that calls the Eastern Sierra home, including deer, birds, trout, rodents and, of course, bears, deserve to be treated with respect — that means giving them plenty of space. If you encounter wildlife on the trail or near the water, take the role of a passive observer from at least 50 feet away. 
Respecting wildlife also means never feeding animals in the wild. Food scraps and other scented human items that animals could mistake as food can be dangerous for the animals. Not only are these things not a natural part of their diets, but relying on human food can make animals have trouble surviving on their own. Or they may become too comfortable around humans and find themselves in a situation that is dangerous for both animals and humans.
If you decide to go for a dip or paddle, put all food and trash away before leaving your spot on the shore. This will prevent critters from invading your lunch leftovers, and the wind from blowing your wrappers away. Unattended coolers on the beach can often attract bears, so put your ice chest or cooler bag in the car, or hide it before going into the water.

Respect Other Recreators, Too

Wilderness areas are meant to be places of respite where visitors can enjoy quiet time in nature. And part of taking care of mother nature is making sure these wild spaces stay wild for everyone to enjoy. 
Being respectful of others can be as simple as not blasting music from your boat or from the shore. Or it could mean giving space to fisherman and others who established their shore spot before your arrival.

Your first step toward more sustainable recreation can be as simple as reading and signing the Mammoth Lakes Promise to commit to keeping Mammoth Lakes beautiful.

Sign the Mammoth Lakes Promise

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Sustainable Travel in Mammoth Lakes