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Without a Trace

Written by Tenedra Bafford

Without a Trace

A U.S. Forest Service slogan inspires traceurs to preserve their training grounds.

What do a refrigerator, a truck bumper, and a lot of dirty diapers have in common? They were all found (and removed) by traceurs in Maui trying to leave their training grounds just a little cleaner than they found them.

The garbage haul came from an event known as a Leave No Trace jam. At these jams, athletes follow the Leave No Trace initiative’s philosophy of ensuring an area looks just as good or better than it did before. This means not sullying the environment by leaving garbage or breaking things, and fixing damage done by those before you.

Leave No Trace is now a central part of Washington, D.C.’s annual (B)East Coast Jam. Zachary Cohn, co-founder of Rochester Parkour and a Leave No Trace proponent, teamed up with a friend to turn the cleanup at Virginia’s Great Falls Park into a competition of its own. The two grabbed a log to string bags across when they ran out of hands. “People came back with two or three bags, but we had 17,” he boasts.

Parkour Visions, a Seattle-based gym, started having Leave No Trace jams when it opened in 2007, but Leave No Trace dates back to the 1960s, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service saw more people using public land and fewer people bothering to take care of it. By the 1980s, “No Trace” was a formal Forest Service program, which offered a low-impact philosophy rather than a list of don’ts for outdoor activity. The Boy Scouts of America and National Outdoor Leadership School were early proponents.

Parkour Visions adopted the initiative to stress the importance of respecting and preserving the walls, trees, concrete, and railings that make up training spaces. According to American Parkour’s Leave No Trace Tracker, a blog that records cleanup events and the details of what and how much traceurs hauled, groups of practitioners have picked up over 340 bags (though Cohn thinks this figure is actually much higher by now). They found everything from glass, cigarettes, and pizza boxes to an oven, a refrigerator, and a set of kitchen cabinets. Dirty diapers play a recurring role.

Since Parkour Visions started publicizing the idea, groups in Pennsylvania, Florida, New York, Nevada, Indiana, Idaho, and Hawaii have held their own cleanup jams. In 2010, the idea even traveled to India at a jam sponsored by Parkour Mumbai. For some, the jams represent an appropriate expression of the parkour ethos. “Parkour is unique because we don’t break things. We don’t leave behind trash. It’s not like skateboarding where we are grinding down the pavement. We may leave behind some shoe rubber, but that’s about it. There’s not a reason to leave behind trash. It’s a culture of respect,” says Tyson Cecka, executive director of Parkour Visions.

But beyond the philosophical parallels of the discipline, Leave No Trace has a practical goal, too: preventing “No Parkour” signs from emerging. On its website, Parkour Visions calls training a “walking opportunity to publicize parkour.” The group promotes Leave No Trace as a way for traceurs to set themselves apart as responsible urban recreationists.

On the Leave No Trace Tracker, Kyle “Rage” of Georgia’s Team Avian described how impressed park security was when the group decided to pick up after an August 2009 birthday party held in Douglasville’s Deer Lick Park. On Sept. 10, 2011, Courtney Venuti and her group from Pinnacle Parkour in Turnersville, New Jersey, even adopted a road through their county’s program as a way to publicize parkour. The group cleared a 1.5-mile stretch of road and picked up 150 pounds of garbage. The next day, Venuti spearheaded an event to clean up Philadelphia after flooding from Hurricane Irene left the city strewn with garbage.

“It’s just a part of what we do when we train outside,” Cecka says. “We respect the environment that we play in and leave the place the same as we found it. It is more of a culture, and we just made it a point to really define it.”