Our Story

“Slow & Say Hello!”

Equestrian, biker and hiker on a trail, conversing.

If you walk the trails just north of San Francisco into a County Open Space Preserve, you may have noticed within the main trailhead sign a small yellow-on-black logo that says: ‘Slow and Say Hello!’ Or perhaps, on the Marin Water watershed you’ve passed a Slow Zone sign at Lake Lagunitas; or on a Saturday morning ride in a state park, like China Camp, you’ve encountered volunteers under a pop-up canopy emblazoned with the yellow-on-black ‘Slow and Say Hello’ and ‘Put Yourself in My Shoes.’

slow & say hello!

Trail Partners is the volunteer effort of three collaborating organizations that represent different modes of trail use that promote the importance of protecting natural resources on our public open spaces and parklands while, at the same time, fostering visitor safety and well-being.

Working together, the Marin Horse Council (MHC), Marin County Bicycle Coalition off-road program (MCBC), and Marin Conservation League (MCL) have, for ten years, pursued the shared goal of reducing conflict among different user groups and reinforcing basic concepts of respect for trail rules, each other, and the environment. Most visitors who fill the fire roads and trails of Marin’s public parks, open spaces, and watersheds already “get it,” but still too many don’t, ultimately leading to habitat degradation and compromising the outdoor experience for everyone.

Origins of a Collaboration

The Trail Partners’ “Slow…” campaign to promote communication rather than confrontation, and stewardship rather than negligence of natural resources, has its origins in an event over a decade ago. Simmering conflict among recreation modes has never been far below the surface on many public lands. It was at an all-time high in 2012, it seemed, when a serious injury accident involving two equestrians and their mounts, spooked by two cyclists illegally riding a trail in a County open space preserve, brought the conflict into public view and debate.

Equestrians, dog walkers and biker all sharing the trail.

A member of MHC, the owner of one of the spooked horses and of a nearby stable, reached out to MCBC and proposed a meeting. “Couldn’t we begin working together rather than separately,” he suggested, “and come up with a positive solution to the problem of conflicting trail behaviors?” And so it began. To engage a range of trail visitors on foot as well as to encompass the needs of wildlife and other natural inhabitants of our public lands, the Marin Conservation League was asked to join as an equal partner.

The Director of the County Open Space District (District), an everyday witness to trail use and misuse, was enthusiastic about the proposal and facilitated early meetings to help engender mutual trust among the organizations. The District also agreed to initially underwrite the group with staff assistance.

The nascent Trail Partners found other public land managers in Marin eager to join in “partnering” by supporting the effort financially – California State Parks, Marin Water (MMWD), and the National Park Service (Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore). These public land managers deal with trail conflicts on a frequent basis but lack the resources to be everywhere.

Although “conflict” rarely reaches the level of an injury accident like the one described above, close encounters between mountain cyclists and slower moving walkers, hikers, and equestrians are frequent enough to create anxiety and disrupt the experience of quietude, even displacing slower movers from roads or paths where they once felt safe.

Unleashed dogs add another set of concerns to the mix. In addition to managing visitor use, land managers are also responsible for protecting natural resources on our spectacular lands in the public trust – lands that were preserved for our enjoyment by those before us who took action to save them in perpetuity.

Trail Partners’ Campaign Strategy

Over recent decades, recreational use of our public lands has increased exponentially. The COVID-19 shutdown hugely amplified a trend that continues as local residents and people from other communities come to relax and recreate.

The Trail Partners recognized that most people recreating on public lands will do the right thing if they know what that is and understand why rules exist. But many still need reminding of basic “trail etiquette”– respect for posted speed limits and trail rules, for each other’s modes of recreation, and for the environment. Enforcement of regulations, alone, can’t close the behavioral gap.

That’s where Trail Partners comes in – to promote the idea that through education and persuasion, people (whether local visitors or those from other places) have a better chance of understanding the safety needs of others and the sensitivity of natural resources that surround them. As a consequence, they will behave more responsibly and share trails and roads more amicably.

The principal campaign slogan “Slow and Say Hello” recognizes two key attributes that define a comfortable encounter on the trail: speed control, regardless of travel mode; and communication – a wave, a greeting, even a smile. It also helps for each visitor to be mindful of the others’ recreational experience, hence the slogan: “Put yourself in my shoes.” And finally: “Remember: You are a visitor in wildlife’s home.”

The “slow & say hello!” Program and its Effect

By early 2014, the Trail Partners had crafted a mutually approved Memorandum of Understanding, a design theme and slogan, and with an educational brochure in hand, they began a schedule of “outposts” around the County: setting up a table and canopy on Saturday mornings at popular trailheads, with volunteers offering a “fun” trail quiz with prizes, or just there to talk with visitors about stewardship. The theme “Slow and Say Hello” is echoed on this website (trailpartners.org) and on caps, tee shirts, and posters. An informational brochure serves as a guide to the expectations and responsibilities of each of the primary visitor groups (equestrians, mountain bikers, hikers and walkers) toward each other and the environment.

A canope with table display, people, bikers and horses.
A Trail Partners Outpost next to a trailhead.

How effective can a campaign like “Slow … ” be in transforming behavior when it is premised on the reality that some people will, and some people will not, change their behaviors? Will bicycles stop speeding? Will people make civility toward others the norm on the trails we all enjoy? The expectation of 100% success has never been the goal. The realistic hope of the campaign is that, over time and with repetition, a critical mass will pay closer attention to safe trail behavior and, in turn, apply pressure to their peers to act accordingly.

To that end, the Trail Partners Foundation’s aspirational Mission continues to be to: “… assist in the development of programs that engage and educate all trail visitors in the safe and responsible use of trails and resource protection and help shift the trail culture to one that is mutually aligned and cooperative.”

Adapted from an article by Nona Dennis in the Marin Conservation League News, Jan–Feb 2023