Summer is a time for slowing down. Enjoying a cold glass of lemonade a bit slower than usual. Savoring fresh, local produce from the farmer’s market a little bit longer. Taking the time to delve into a novel beside the pool. And taking man’s (or woman’s) best friend for a leisurely stroll through winding trails in the shade.
As many take to the trails with Fido, I’d like to think that each and every one of those trail hikers is a responsible pet owner. But sadly, it turns out that is not the case. Here at our nature preserve, we installed ‘Mutt Mitt’ bags and trash cans throughout the area in hopes that our visitors would pick up after their four-legged friend. Turns out they are using them! But it seems that more often than not, these little bundles end up everywhere except the trash can.
Can any other interpreter’s out there identify with this or a similar visitor behavior problem? I think so! How many times do we find visitors violating park regulations or acting without the best interest of the nature preserve in mind? How do we appropriately discourage behavior like this in a respectful way to the visitor? By interpretation of course!
First, identify the problem. In our case, people were using the bags but dumping them off in a few select areas around the preserve. We decided to target our efforts around these dumping grounds.
Come up with a theme. We could go on all day preaching about water quality, health issues, etc. But when it came down to it, the theme that most people would identify with was ‘home.’No one likes dog poop in their home. Not even dogs. Our sign has a picture of our box turtle with the caption: I like a clean home, don’t you?
Identify your method. We came up with some signage to represent our theme and educate visitors on where to properly dispose of their pet waste. We also began offering ‘Hiking with Hounds’ programs to not only convey the rules and regulations of the preserve, but to also show visitors with dogs how to truly enjoy their hiking experience together. By inspiring them to take ownership and see the preserve as a home to a variety of living things, we began to see few bags littering the preserve.
Make it fun. Think of your effort to change a behavior as a way to not only educate, but to inspire and motivate someone to care about the resource.
Sprinkle in a few facts that relate back to your theme. We focused on food and water facts to relate back to the theme of ‘home.’ We used these facts from the perspective of the box turtle: Box turtles, like me, search the forest floor for berries, insects, and mushrooms to eat. I like to live in one area rather than travel too far, which means that I need to have plenty of food and fresh, clean water available. Pet waste doesn’t help plants grow and actually can be very harmful to me. Please help me keep my home healthy and clean by disposing of pet waste.
Encouraging respectful and wise-use of our natural landscape is at the heart of everything we do in the field of interpretation. Inspiring visitors to feel a connection between themselves and their surroundings can bring about a change in behavior that can impact future generations in a positive way.