It’s getting to be spring time again, I think January was one of the warmest in years and February looks to be very wet. Hopefully, we will be able to get our monthly work trips done without interruption.
As the new thru-hiker season unfolds many of us will be encountering visitors while maintaining and hiking the trial. While most of these encounters will not involve any serious impacts, some could, especially for Trail Ambassadors and Ridge Runners. It is helpful, but not necessary, to attempt a discussion about the impacts hikers make. Having an overview of a technique could make some of these conversations more successful.
We expect the best in people. Many do not realize they have a detrimental impact and are happy to know how to better behave. We strive for long term changes in people’s respect and behavior for the resource and to develop an intrinsically motivated stewardship. These changes will last if visitors are guided to their own beliefs and values and develop a more principled ethic on their own.
The Authority of the Resource Technique (ART) was developed years ago as a method to engage visitors that are making an impact. The objective is to encourage sustainable backcountry behavior in a positive manner. These actions are unknowing, unavoidable, uniformed, unskilled or careless.
The technique de-emphasizes the rules in favor of interpreting the why through education. Success is when you cause the visitor to change their behavior without even mentioning that there is a rule or regulation. I advocate that their wilderness experience will be significantly improved by minimizing their impacts where they hike and camp.
The advantage of focusing on the value and needs of the resource include:
- - People don’t like being told what to do, using the resource as the authority causes visitors to focus on protection rather than dealing with laws.
- - The desired behavior is more predictable if people understand how the impact of their actions affect the resource.
- - Creates a long lasting behavioral change.
The downside of quoting rules and regulations are:
- - Visitor thinks about the laws, rules, badges etc. and not the resource.
- - Forced compliance does nothing long term
- - The visitor’s reaction could be defensive with short term results.
- - Makes the wilderness experience negative.
There are five steps to engage the visitor in a behavior modification discussion:
- 1. Establish rapport, greet the visitor with some small talk
- 2. Stand side by side and provide an objective observation of the situation.
- 3. Describe the implications without judgement, of the action/behavior that you observed. Why it is necessary to focus on the resource
- 4. Describe how you feel about the situation.
- 5. Explain/educate how to change for the better.
You may wonder, does ART always work and is it always appropriate? The answer is “no”. There are some situations that will not respond to reason, such as a “face” saving situation in a group, especially if alcohol could be involved. Or just plain stubbornness can also be an obstacle. In these situations, with a potentially hostile encounter, it is better to just walk away.
These conversations may seem awkward at first, it is important that the Trail Ambassador knows what they are talking about and are confident in their ability to approach users. Of course, practice helps. The important thing is to explain why the impacts are not sustainable, a weak explanation doesn’t go far. Since we frequently cover and are very familiar with the Appalachian Trail in Georgia we are in an excellent position to offer alternatives. Planning also helps.
Don’t expect to see immediate changes. Usually, by the time we approach a visitor the impact has occurred. We are trying to instill an ethic for the next time and the rest of the trail.
The next time you find yourself in that beautiful place, gritting your teeth over someone else’s behavior, take a deep breath, look around you, and give the authority of the resource a try. After all, if not you, who?
If you haven’t stopped by at A.T. Basecamp behind the visitor center at Amicalola Falls, you need to. Bob Sloan has fixed it up to register thru-hikers and get them ready for their journey. Bob, and Ridge Runner Nick Espinosa, have four principle points they share with hikers:
- 1. Register their hike at www.atcamp.org, this allows them to see how many people are starting their hikes by day.
- 2. Storing food safely.
- 3. Selecting durable/existing campsites and campfires, basically not making new ones.
- 4. Making sure all trash is properly disposed of.
Board of Directors
With the start of a new year it may seem strange to think about next year’s board. But we need to plan ahead for the process of identifying a slate of members to continue leading our club. Anyone who has been a member for more than two years can be considered for nomination. If you are interested in serving at a higher level, please let me know.
Also, our board meeting are always open and members are invited to attend. Most of our meetings are held the second Sunday of every other month at the Kennesaw REI store. If you would like to attend please let me know.
See y’all on the trail real soon.