Katherine Donnelly | 05.25.2017

Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, and with it came the unofficial start to summer, sun, and swimming hole fun! We'll be the first to say that we LOVE a good swimming hole, whether it is a backcountry secret, a local hotspot, a cliff-jumping paradise, or anything in between; when that summer heat rolls in, a day on the water ticks every box. Given the fragile nature of many ideal swimming havens, their ever-increasing popularity, and the very questionable ethical practices of some visitors to these spots (remember this Shasta Lake occurance?), we all need to take a minute and reevaluate our weekend plans and how we approach these incredible, sacred places.  

How can we enjoy the inspirational wonders of nature while also ensuring that the lands are preserved and the outdoor experience remains intact for many years to come? 

This question is a global issue that lingers in the minds of many outdoor enthusiasts, ourselves included, and great efforts are being made to find the right balance of play and preservation in the outdoors. A recent example is the U.S. Forest Service's decision to add user restrictions and visitation limitations to Oregon's very popular Opal Creek Wilderness in an attempt to better control land use and impacts. As stated on their site, "these new rules come after several years of dramatic increases in recreation in these areas, resulting in ecosystem damage, infrastructure vandalism, and a diminished experience for visitors." These new restrictions will impact visitor numbers and parking, campfire and stove use, alcohol consumption, and camping practices, and they go into effect on May 26, 2017, right as the holiday weekend kicks off.

Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center has also been working hard to remind outdoor recreationalists of some simple yet essential practices that apply to all outdoor adventuring: "Be considerate of other visitors–not everyone wants to hear your music, see your beer cans, or pick up after you when you leave. When hiking, swimming, or just chilling by the river, remember that this public space should feel welcoming and comfortable to everyone." In combination with proper Leave No Trace practices and the newfound restrictions, this straightforward request will conceivably keep Opal Creek visitors conscientious, accountable, and aware of their impact - in more ways than one. 

Similar stories and efforts can be found nationwide as the entire country sees outdoor recreation numbers continue to rise, along with irreversible effects on the lands and ecosystems. The hope is that we can all work to mitigate human impact on these amazing locations before more drastic measures need to be taken; some places, such as Oregon's Umpqua Hot Springs, California's University Falls, and Washington's Naked Falls have even shut down or been permanently closed due to the sheer number of users and general abuse and disrespect for nature - and that's the last thing we want, isn't it?

So before heading out to a beloved swimming hole this summer (or anywhere for that matter), think about what you're looking for from your adventure and ask yourself these three questions:

1. Have you done your research?

You've likely heard it before, but allow us to reiterate: It's best to know BEFORE you go. Put in the time and effort to know the conditions of your destination; this should include weather forecasts, water temperatures and levels, carpooling or public transportation options, driving distance and directions, land use restrictions and limitations, required permits, among many more variables. Consider how busy it will be given the day of the week or time of the year. And take a minute to check the news or alerts for any updates on your proposed destination. 

This year is presenting even more factors to contemplate for those looking to cool off at their favorite river swimming hole: The huge amount of precipitation throughout the West this past winter and spring have led to greatly escalated river flow rates, high water levels, and lower water temperatures in some areas. There have already been reports of injury (and even an assumed drowning) this spring due to these heightened factors, so please keep in mind that a leisurely dip may not be in the cards on your next river trip. 

By doing your research and knowing what to expect, you can better plan and adapt for a fun, safe, and adventure-filled day in nature. It's that simple.

2. Are you willing and prepared to practice ethical outdoor behavior?

No article on ethical behavior in the outdoors would be complete without talking Leave No Trace, and this one's no different. As more and more people recreate outdoors each year, it becomes absolutely essential for us to practice respect and work to minimize our impacts at both an individual level and as a community as a whole. Practicing Leave No Trace can seem like a daunting task, but in reality it simply boils down to actively making small choices to leave things better than we found them.  

In an effort to make respectful outdoor practices even easier, we recently 'sat down' with Matthew Durrant, an Outdoor Project contributor and Leave No Trace Master Educator, who shared some incredibly helpful tips to minimizing your impact with Leave No Trace

3. Will you be courteous and remain aware of how your experience effects those around you?

Essentially, think about what your intentions are once you reach your destination. Are you looking to relax and take in the breeze while enjoying a good book, enjoy a family picnic by the water, or maybe go for a hike with friends with a quick dip afterwards? Or are you and your entire fraternity house looking to let loose and take your party to the beach

Before heading out, determine what you're expectations and plans are for the day, and consider whether your proposed destination is the right place for you and your objectives. There are many outdoor areas and locations out there, and often times a different locale would better cater to what you're looking to do. There's no reason you can't enjoy some music and beers with your friends while outside, but maybe a delicate, family-oriented swimming hole isn't the place for that. Try going to a less-crowded, more robust environment, or adapt your game plan to the realities behind that delicate river beach that you really want to visit. 

Keep this in the back of your mind: When enjoying public lands, it's not just about you and your crew but about the experience for everyone!


Think you're ready for some safe and amiable summertime fun? Keep scrolling for a plethora of our favorite swimming holes throughout the West and beyond!




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