I’ve been exploring new country lately and
these expeditions require maps. I’ve been buying
a few. On the corner of each is a logo: the dot and
twin swirls of Leave No Trace, Inc.
By now, almost everyone who shrugs into a backpack
or takes off in the family Subaru for a couple of
days in the outdoors knows the logo. In 1994, it
wasn’t that way. In May that year, I started
my career with NOLS and there was a tremendous debate
raging over the logo for Leave No Trace, the outreach
program of minimum impact. NOLS wanted to take its
curriculum beyond its own students to the general
public and LNT was the tool, but the new program
needed a logo, an identity.
Like a lot of things that are developed for public
consumption these days, the logo had been studied,
opinioned and study-grouped ad nauseam. One of the
early editions had an arrow on one of the swirls.
People said it was like looking into a top-loading
washing machine. Others liked the arrow. It was a
debate that went on for weeks. Finally, the boss
“We’re going to take the arrow off the
logo and that will be it,” said Jim Ratz, who
was the executive director of NOLS and the man most
responsible for me having a job.
Today, that logo has been seen by millions of people.
There may be some out there who think of laundry
day when they see it, but there are far more who
recognize the logo of Leave No Trace, Inc., and think
about going camping. That’s a pretty good legacy,
but Jim Ratz has left this world with a lot more.
Most of 1994 at the International Headquarters of
NOLS was spent trying to figure out how to keep the
LNT program afloat while still doing what NOLS does
so well — teaching students in the outdoors.
LNT was a tremendous financial burden on the school
and initially, NOLS sought corporate sponsors to
help out. They were willing, but the details, the
financial structure and the administration of the
program were all causing one big headache.
That summer, Jim Ratz, Rich Brame (who was administering
LNT for NOLS) and I flew to Reno, Nevada, for the
Outdoor Retailer summer show. After a few days of
listening to manufacturers and retailers, Jim, Rich
and I found ourselves sitting at a bar across from
our hotel. I can still remember the place: it advertised
something like eighty beers from around the world.
We were trying a few out and discussing Leave No
Trace and how NOLS was going to deal. Clearly, the
program was on the verge of explosion and NOLS just
didn’t have the resources or the staff to take
it to another level. Somewhere in that discussion,
Jim came up with the solution.
“How about Leave No Trace, Inc.?” he
said. “Its own nonprofit, with its own staff,
its own fundraising?”
And that is how Leave No Trace, Inc., was born.
Since those beginnings from the brain of Jim Ratz,
LNT, Inc. has grown up: it has educated thousands.
Its principles are on the lips of backcountry world
travelers every year, and its logo is a lot of places.
Jim did that.
Jim was a doer. He made decisions quickly, or if
he thought long about them or processed them, he
did it silently. When the decision came out of his
mouth, it seemed sometimes as if no thought at all
had gone into it, but action people get accused of
doing this all the time. Jim Ratz was the poster
boy for the term “man of action.”
Jim took the school from a little organization into
the all-important midlife of a nonprofit. He pushed
the school to explore the wonders of the Internet,
he was instrumental in starting the public lands
policy program, and he led the school in new and
exciting directions. He encouraged me to make The
Leader into a publication with broad appeal and a
classy design, and he helped the annual catalog be
more appealing and, simply, better. He let you do
your job and he supported you. I worked for him for
less than a year, but he remains one of the most
influential leaders in my career.
Jim died this spring while climbing near his home
in Lander. In a life, one can only hope to leave
something of a tiny legacy, to love well, lead and
mentor others, and to do the right thing. Jim did
all of that in spades. He loved his family and friends,
he left one hell of a legacy, and he did the right
thing, even when the right thing was the tough thing.
That’s the definition of moral integrity.
I can still hear Jim, talking in that clipped, soft
way of his. It’s interesting how people have
influences not only on one’s career and one’s
personal life, but on speech patterns. Jim was famous
for always saying: “Fabulous. Fabulous.” It
was so funny that Bruce Palmer and I often laughed
about it and imitated him. That word and the way
Jim said it is still part of my repartee. Lately,
whenever I say it, I think of him. One could say
that of Jim’s life: Fabulous.
Tom Reed, former NOLS Publications Manager, now
works on roadless area protection in Wyoming and
Montana for Trout Unlimited. He is the author of
Great Wyoming Bear Stories and a NOLS Instructor.
He lives in Bozeman, Montana.