Educating others on trail etiquette/LNT

3:28 p.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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Yesterday we hiked up Saddleback Mountain here in Maine and were sitting on top, eating our lunch, when we noticed a large spread out group of adults and teens (probably 8-10 total) plus a dog coming across the alpine ridge toward the summit. Unfortunately, the first five kids were ambling way, way off the trail trampling over the fragile plants and flowers. They were wandering around like it was their own personal meadow. None of the adults with them seemed to notice or care (I assume they didn't know any better). All I could think was, ahhhh!!!! They're killing the plants!

So, here's the question. Have you ever approached another hiker to educate them on the proper/expected way to behave on the trail? If so, how did you do it? What was so egregious it made you do this?

It's one thing if you're already in a position of authority, like a ranger, but for some random hiker to walk up and say something I think is very hard. I'm pretty non-confrontational. At the same time, I assume that people usually just don't know better and wouldn't choose to do the wrong thing if they did. So, what would you do? Do you think there are nice, acceptable ways to inform a stranger? When are you morally obliged to say something? (obvious safety issues, I'd say) Has anyone ever said something to you?

In our case, my spouse walked over and chatted with the kids and told them how fragile the plants are and why it was necessary to stay on the trail up here. He was nice about it and we were extra friendly when we passed them again. Generally, we don't go around lecturing others and pointing out things we'd do differently. Usually, we just try to be friendly folks. Still, it can seem very awkward when there's something blatantly wrong happening.

Thoughts?

3:43 p.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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Alicia first off I have done my fair share of bushwhacking but I have to add that I am always cautious where I walk so as not to trample what ever is in front of me. As far as how you approach someone it depends on there attitude some people would welcome a different point of view and or a educational conversation and Some people it would just make the situation worse and that type of person need a more aggressive approach. IE you wouldn't trample through your or your neighbors garden at home would you well this is as much your as it is mine. In most cases a little tact & diplomacy will go along way, some people just don't know.

4:09 p.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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I don't think we've ever approached someone about something like this before, at least that I can remember. Sometimes people are just operating in a different style, and I've done some bushwhacking myself, so I wouldn't approach someone for doing that.

In this case, it was pretty obviously a matter of total ignorance for a long spell on a very fragile environment. I think we figured that since the kids were just standing there a few feet away once they reached the summit it wouldn't hurt to give them a friendly tip. I'm sure they didn't know better or have a clue about what damage they may have done. We made sure to smile a lot and say have a nice day and everything. I agree that it will only work if you have a great, friendly, non-lecturing attitude toward people who seem receptive to talk. And even then, it would be pretty rare for me to say something.

My 5 year old however was piping up, "go chat with those people over there about staying on the rocks!" and things like that. He may need more tact, though come to think of it he can be useful in this regard since he is far less censored. He's the one who'll pipe up two feet past another hiker, "why didn't that lady make her dogs listen to her!" and things like that. Maybe we'll just work through him next time!

4:35 p.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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Hay your son is 5 and he is just repeating what he has been thought I see no harm in that. Your right they probably just didn't understand the effect they were having on the environment and how detrimental it can be. I am a pretty blunt person I don't sugar coat things as I am sure you have probably noticed lol. Sometimes its a good thing sometimes its a bad thing.

12:35 a.m. on August 11, 2009 (EDT)
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Alicia,

I usually carry a few of the LNT hang tags and pass them out to people who look like they could use a hint. The approach I take is the "salesman" approach of starting a conversation with a series of interspersed questions of the "sure is nice out here in the wilderness, don't you think?", "What do you like most about the lake/stream/woods around here? "Do you camp and backpack much/in many places?" This gets them saying "yes, I really like it in the woods", "I like the beauty", "I like getting away from the city (and the trash)" - AHA! the opening! I throw in some comments about "yeah, it sure is nice to come to a pristine place". In Utah, near King's Mountain, I threw in a comment about the multi-lane deeptrenched trails across the meadows and "you would think people would realize their waterproof boots can stand up to the mud in the trail instead of making a new track, wouldn't you?" (asking for agreement, here, having gotten the "I like the pristine wilderness" comment pulled out of them).

Somewhere along the line, I start dropping the various LNT points, then lead to "here is a card that the Leave No Trace organization puts out, some guidelines on how we can reduce our impact and leave the area better than how we found it for our children and grandchildren."

No lectures. Just pull them into stating their admiration and enjoyment and how they don't like to see the trash. It's harder when the impact is their loud boombox or a large group is whooping it up. But sometimes you can get them to just listen quietly for a bit to the stream and hear the birds and animals. When you can get them to agree, it's easy to get them to read the guidelines and start making some simple changes.

8:08 a.m. on August 11, 2009 (EDT)
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I look at it like this; As long as a new path is not being made very little true damage will happen, You have to remember that the animals walk there too. We as humans just think about these things, and at times get upset for little reason. Showing the children the better way of doing things is the right aproach. They are very open, and like to learn. The most important thing is to keep a smile on your face.

8:24 a.m. on August 11, 2009 (EDT)
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I agree with everyone's advice that if you feel the need to say something you've got to do it with a very friendly, good attitude. No one wants to be lectured by some preachy person. People will just tune you out anyway if you do that or be very put off.

In this case, it was on a summit with a rare, very fragile alpine tundra ecosystem. Usually there are signs approaching an area like this about the importance of staying on the trail only. I wouldn't have said anything about someone bushwhacking below treeline or accidentally stepping off the trail briefly and so on.

But this spot is one of the few alpine meadow spots in the entire state and hikers are the biggest threat to the plants' survival. It's very rare and fragile and a few footsteps can have a huge impact here, with plants taking years to recover, unlike elsewhere. So, that's why it felt necessary to say something instructive, but with a big friendly smile.

9:21 a.m. on August 11, 2009 (EDT)
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I just want to add that I hope no one thinks I'm advocating going around pointing fingers and being critical of others. Generally I just try to do the right thing (as much as humanely possible) and show my kids by example.

It just got me thinking about when, if ever, do you feel obligated to say something to someone who may not know any better, including for safety reasons, (and I include myself on both sides here) and how bad does it have to be before you'd get involved.

6:27 p.m. on August 11, 2009 (EDT)
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I think that a lot of what goes into the correct action to take depends on the circumstances. To me it sounds like you handled the situation in a good way.

I also tend to be non-confrontational, mostly because I tend to wind up sticking my foot in my mouth if I'm not carefull. At the same time, some of my best friendships have come from chance encounters on a trail where I approached somebody in away that showed I was concerned not only about improving there experience, but also future experiences on the trail, by keeping the trail in good condition for a return visit.

8:21 p.m. on August 11, 2009 (EDT)
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Alicia,

I would love to see a photo of the area so I'm going to Google Saddleback Mnt. and see what pops up. We have areas similar to that in NC, we call them balds. Roan Bald Mountain is a prime example,while not true alpine, there are several plant species that are fragile. The AT crosses Roan Bald, and the Roan Bald shelter is the highest elevation shelter on the AT. This is an absolutely beautiful, and very special place that deserves to be protected.

Trenary JL has a picture of the area here on Trailspace.

 

On the subject of approaching people to discuss preservation and LNT, I agree, you must do so in a friendly and encouraging way.

Sometimes I feel like asking people if they trample the plants in their own front yard, the way they walk on the ones by the side of the trail.

But you can not broach the subject in that manner of course. I like to just strike up a conversation with them, I ask them where they are from, have they been to this area before etc. I sometimes tell them "I've been coming here for a long time and I'm glad to see that the wildflowers are doing well despite the increase of hikers to this trail."

Or: "It's real cool to get to see a place like this that has been preserved in it's pristine state isn't it?"

I think you can be both deft and genuine at the same time if you let your love of the outdoors be the center piece of the conversation. And as Bill S. already stated, it helps if they will accept a LNT card. I like to keep some on hand, I like the little plastic ones.

You can just pull one out of your pocket and ask them if they have seen one like that before, then you can say: "Tell you what, you are welcome to that one, I've got several, and they don't do any good sitting in my glove box, I think they're pretty cool!"

Everyone wants something cool, I think.

I also think it can be easy to confuse enjoying the wilderness, with running through it, sometimes I'm tempted myself!

11:56 p.m. on August 11, 2009 (EDT)
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I just want to add that I hope no one thinks I'm advocating going around pointing fingers and being critical of others. Generally I just try to do the right thing (as much as humanely possible) and show my kids by example.

It just got me thinking about when, if ever, do you feel obligated to say something to someone who may not know any better, including for safety reasons, (and I include myself on both sides here) and how bad does it have to be before you'd get involved.

No I don't think that and I agree that your just trying to teach your children by example which I think is the correct way. And yes an encouraging note or an educational conversation form someone that has the knowledge of the situation at hand is acceptable.

10:24 a.m. on August 12, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks for the all comments and advice.

Trouthunter, I think you're right about it being similar to what you call a bald. Some day I will have to head south and see some of yours firsthand.

The AT also crosses Saddleback, so they have that in common too. If you're ever in Maine I highly recommend it as a hike. About a decade ago there was a lot of controversy about how to protect it, since the ski area owned all the way to the summit. Anyway, around 2000 the AT corridor and other sections were protected through NPS acquisitions and easements. Now there are new owners of the resort too.

On a side note for you, all of the ski trail at Saddleback are fishing themed, particularly names of lures, since Rangeley, Maine, is big fishing destination.

Here are some pictures from the summit and then descending along the ridge.

 

 

I did learn some new info on the Maine Geological Survey website though, since they did a geologic transect of the area:

https://www.maine.gov/doc/nrimc/mgs/explore/bedrock/sites/oct06.htm

9:21 p.m. on August 12, 2009 (EDT)
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Ah yes, very nice photos! Does look a lot like a NC bald.

Looks like the young one is tired of waiting on you.

 

Thanks for that link, now I know what Till is, very informative. I would love to get up your way one day, and doing the AT is still on my list, but for now business has me pinned down. But something to look forward to...right?

8:03 p.m. on August 13, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks for that link, now I know what Till is, very informative. I would love to get up your way one day, and doing the AT is still on my list, but for now business has me pinned down. But something to look forward to...right?

Glad you liked it.

It's good to have stuff to look forward to.

12:08 a.m. on August 18, 2009 (EDT)
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Better to step on 1000 plants once than 1 plant 1000 times? Not if they are rare or endangered!

One of the exercises in the LNT trainers course deals with various scenarios and what to do if you see blatant disregard for the land and LNT principals. Alicia, you and Dave handled it perfectly. You would have scored high on this section. Nice job.

7:32 a.m. on August 18, 2009 (EDT)
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Now that I see the area that you were hiking, I stand corrected. It sounds like you handled it well. Teaching at a young age stays with them forever.

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