1. Use nature as your authority.
Or as my park ranger self would call it, “Authority of the Resource.” It’s a thing you can look up if you don’t believe me. Instead of hollering at someone or saying that sarcastic and snide remark in passing, we can influence others behavior by enlightening them using the resource we are enjoying in that moment. For instance, if you see a group of people picking all the wildflowers, you could validate how pretty the flowers are and let them know that hundreds of people visit that trail a weekend. If everyone took the flowers, there wouldn’t be enough for them to enjoy and that would suck. Then offer to take a family photo of them by the flowers for a killer cover photo. Sounds silly, but it works like a charm.
2. Assume positive intent.
Now this REALLY sounds silly, but if you change your perspective from “those *BLEEPS* harassing that poor deer for a selfie are don’t care about nature,” you’re tone and willingness to positively impact improve greatly. Assume others are intending to be positive in their actions. In the above example, this could be assuming this group intends to have a positive moment and wants to share their excitement about seeing something they found beautiful in nature. See? Makes it harder to be mean to them and create a bad experience for everyone involved.
3.Be the change you want to see.
As simple as it sounds, people forget about this all the freaking time. Like with litter. WE HATE LITTER! And when I see someone litter or leave a “doggie bag” on the side of the trail, I want to go all “Nightmare on Elm Street” on the involved parties. But then what happens? We get involved in the frustration and allow these outside circumstances to taint our moment in nature. And then walk past the trash because, well, it’s only microtrash and I pick up litter all the time and if I start to pick up trash now then I’ll never finish my hike in time for lunch. I know I am guilty of it. And we can’t correct every issue we see in nature. But what we can do is take some time to stop and show these actions when we see others as a means of social accountability.
4. Be nice!
Some people just look so miserable to be outside. Well, maybe if you are on a grueling trail run or have been biking up a hill for longer than two seconds it’s okay. Otherwise, it is so easy to smile and say “good morning” or “beautiful day, huh?” It makes you approachable and enhances the experience for everyone.
5. Realize it costs you nothing!
Smiling, taking ten seconds to educate someone, giving directions…this is a minimal amount of time and costs you nothing to do. When I started framing my interactions this way, it broke down a barrier for me to share my knowledge, passion, and experience. Pretty much every time I recreate outside, I come across someone that I am able to refer to a beginner activity group, cool local event, or organization. Being helpful and polite opens the door up for these folks to ask more questions, build credibility and rapport, and influences their behavior. As an avid outdoorist and in my years as a park ranger, I have time thousands of interactions and it only takes about 11 seconds to have these positive conversations and lay a path for positive change.
6. Get to know what’s going on locally.
Being armed with the knowledge of popular outdoor events, Leave No Trace classes, or awesome community organizations, groups, or even social media group and resources helps you eliminate barriers for some of these folks new to recreating outdoors. You help them to find ways to overcome their barriers while getting karma points of your own.