4. Will People Listen?

Education is the key to reducing conflicts on the trails.

Key Questions

A sole hiker walking down an open trail.
  • How do people learn?
  • How do you reach the most people?
  • How do you overcome the obstacles to learning?

Let’s unpack these questions…

How do people learn?

People learn in different ways. To be most effective, a safety plan should recognize and address the different ways people learn new information.

Types of learners —
  • Verbal – listening, discussion
  • Visual – reading, pictures, charts
  • Doing – physically involved

Outside of a classroom environment, most people learn best by talking with others.

Posters, kiosks and brochures etc. work best to reinforce what people have heard from others. For example, “Leave No Trace” is a phrase recognized by most outdoors men and women, and seeing it at kiosks reinforces its message. However, that phrase was introduced in the 1980’s, but the program really took off once they began the widespread use of in person workshops.

Physically repairing damage caused by human activity really sends the message home about respecting the “stay on the trail” rule.

How do you reach the most people?

The most effective way for trail users to be receptive to information is to hear it from:

  • A friend
  • Someone in their own user group
    This is true under most circumstances, but especially true in an area where conflict has already created hostility among different user groups.
  • Rangers or docents
What doesn’t work:

Having one user group lecture another user group. This is usually counterproductive, even if the message is accurate and well timed, hostility between user groups will most often leave the recipient unable to hear and process what is being said.

Real-world example of how lecturing didn’t work:

This sign was posted at a meadow in Yosemite National Park:

Sign: 'Keep Out'

This sign was ignored.
The sign was then modified and then almost everyone complied, WHY?

Sign: 'Keep Out Birds Nesting'

The vast majority of people will obey rules and do the right thing if they:

  • Know what the rules are and
  • understand the reason for the rules.

How do you overcome the obstacles to learning?

The key is to engage people in a positive manner and encourage their interest.

The biggest obstacle to learning about trail safety is that most people think they already are aware of safety. People don’t know what they don’t know.  We developed a technique, a Trail Quiz, to challenge people on the issue. A couple of carefully worded questions that most people get wrong changes the interaction and sets the stage for a larger conversation.

Another obstacle is that many trail users aren’t receptive to hearing from other groups. Whenever possible, your message should come from others within their own user group or a neutral third party such as a Ranger or Docent.

There are many ways to say hello -- a hi or a howdy -- a wave, a smile, or a nod!