Recreational Access and Conservation

| Introduction | News | Notices | Activities | Education | Forums | Columns | Links |

Dedicated to conservation and multiple use of public lands for recreation opportunities.

Edited by: John Stewart

The Image of Recreationists: How do we improve?

By Tom Zehrbach

This summer I took part in my first trail repair event. Afterwards, I realized that although we accomplished all the repair goals, we didn't harvest much publicity from the efforts. Since we are fighting a publicity war with the eco-extremists, we cannot continue to do good without telling people about it. Some observations from the event:

1. DEALING WITH AGENCY STAFF: When working with government agency staff, such as USFS or BLM personnel little kindness is much appreciated by them. They have a difficult job dealing with a variety of land users. I gave bottled water and T-shirts to the USFS folks I was working with and they were extremely happy with the "gifts."

Additionally, we held a BBQ on the Saturday night of the trail cleanup. We didn't think to invite the feds to the event, but told them about it on Sunday. They seemed genuinely disappointed that they missed the event. Remember, it is a free meal to them, which can make a difference in their view of us, as well as a chance to socialize and exchange views. We offered rides up and down the mountain and cold beverages on a hot day. It really made a difference in our relationship with our public land managers.

Basically, we treated them like friends. This is simple, common hospitality, but sometimes you don't think of it until too late. Remember that land manger staff of today will be administrators tomorrow. Be kind to them today and they will remember you tomorrow. (The USFS folks I met were pretty cool and it was easy to be friendly with them. The supervising Wilderness ranger even wheeled his Jeep Cherokee until the maintenance costs of a trail rig busted his budget).

2. APPEARANCES: Part of our job was to build fences that keep people on the trail. This work required chain saws to cut and trim trees on site. Some passer-by hikers made comments about the chain saws they saw in some of the rigs traveling to the work areas. Although chain saws may be part of a well-prepared trail outing in case trees have fallen on the trail, I suggest you keep the chain saws out of site. They can give the wrong impression to the less knowledgeable observer.

3. ADVERTISE: We had many rigs on the trail that day and we met numerous hikers. Some of the hikers belonged to "environmental" organizations. They knew that they were supposed to hate us. However, there were plenty of unaffiliated hikers on the trail that were curious about our vehicles and our purpose. We should have ADVERTISED our purpose with banners, flags or some other means of identifying us as being part of an officially sanctioned work crew.

We should have had some form of large identifier for each vehicle that stated "Official USFS Work Vehicle" or "Official USFS Volunteer Vehicle". We NEED TO ADVERTISE our good deeds. We need to let people know that the trees we're cutting down to build fences have been officially sanctioned by the appropriate governing agency.

Further, we relocated rocks from within a stream bed to parts of the trail. This was sanctioned by the USFS and should have been advertised. Again, we need to assure observers that we're working with the approval of local authorities AND we need to advertise that we are doing good. Club banners should be flown to let people know that organized trail users maintain the trails they use.

4. MEDIA RELEASE: I had a good time at the work weekend, as did the other participants. However, I've never seen an article in a print magazine or the local newspaper about the fun of trail clean-up/fix-up participation. The cyber-magazine 4x4Wire is the only on-line source for these activities. We need to fix this - we need to publish articles everywhere about trail cleanups.

Things to include in such articles (aside from the normal who, what, where, when, and why) are interviews with the local authorities (the USFS staff, in my case), the workers, and other non-participating trail users as available. Include descriptions about any BBQs and raffles. List the sponsors. We not only need to publicize our good deeds, we need to market such events to the trail riding public to get them involved in future events. (Remember, public servants may not be able to speak on the record and permission is required to publish such interviews).

5. GET THE PRESS INVOLVED: The organizers of the event had contacted the local newspapers about the activities, but no reporters attended. We have to change this. A normal press release about who, what, where, when, why, and how is not enough. We need to start marketing to the press. A few suggestions:

I'm sure some of you have had much better success at getting media support. We all need to share information about what did and did not work to get media attendance.

6. INVITE ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES: Invite local, state, and federal representatives to the work outing. If any accept, arrange with the local press for news coverage of the representatives in attendance.Talk About It in the ORN Trail Talk Forums

SUMMARY: In summary, to combat the vast array of negative and slanted press arrayed against us, we need to better promote the good work that we do and the healthy respect for the environment that we all share. We need to add yet another task to the long list of tasks required on a work crew - a reporter or marketer tasked with publicizing the event to the media and local, state, and federal representatives. They need photographs of the work and any celebrations (i.e. BBQs). They need to conduct interviews, write articles and submit them for publication. Organizers need to hold a debriefing and determine what went right and what went wrong to share with other clubs and organizations improve for the next event.

In short, doing good without telling anyone makes US feel good, but it doesn't make OTHERS feel good about us. We need to change that.

Share your image improving ideas on the 4x4Wire Conservation and Land Use Forum.

Related Links: