Because of my volunteer work as an Audubon International steward, I have helped many golf course managers and superintendents obtain course certification for the Cooperative Sanctuary Program, which promotes environmental responsibility.
One might think that a nature-center manager would have to stretch to have something in common with these fine folks. On the contrary, it is amazing how much we have in common--the same challenges, many of the same perspectives and the charge of maintaining the integrity of an open space that needs to be there for all who want to use it.
The rules for golf courses and nature centers are basically the same:
1. Be aware of your surroundings. This is a key concept. On the golf course, take note of who is ahead of you and who is behind, so that you can keep the appropriate pace. Allow faster golfers to play through. This applies to nature lovers, too. When nearing someone who is watching a bird through binoculars, slow down and wait so as not to disturb the opportunity of seeing the bird.
2. Keep quiet. Golf is a game of concentration. Loud voices, cell phones, etc. disturb one’s concentration. In nature, this is important as well--one loud noise can disturb a predator from getting its prey, and decrease your chances of seeing wildlife.
3. Leave only footprints. In the world of golf, this means keeping the course looking better than you found it by repairing ball marks, raking sand traps, and putting flags back on the greens. Don’t look for balls in places that will disturb wildlife. In nature, it means refraining from breaking branches, picking flowers, or hurting wildlife of any size, including spiders, worms, etc.
4. Don’t litter. From water cups to beer cans and cigarette butts to sunflower-seed shells, some golfers don’t have the basic manners to treat public or private property with respect. The same is true of some who visit natural areas. Don’t litter--it’s bad for water quality and wildlife, and it is unsightly.
5. Respect all facilities as if they were yours. The facilities belong to you as common areas. If you golf on a public course, your family’s taxes go to support it. The same is true for nature centers and other parks. It is important to treat the facilities as if you had to pay for them if they were damaged. Costs do increase when staff has to put in extra time cleaning up after people.
Make Them Hear You
When people act as if an open-space resource is community property, and treat it with respect, knowing that they will probably like to return and find it in good condition, life is great. But when they disobey these simple, common-sense rules, managing these open places becomes extremely challenging.
I’m not sure who would win if there were a contest of the strangest behavior we’ve seen, or the type of litter people leave behind, but I know I am reluctant to put some of our discoveries on paper. As managers of golf and nature facilities, we face the same issues--I see the same litter in our parking lots, cups, plastic bags, fast-food residue, cans and cigarette butts.
Teaching respect for an open space is becoming increasingly difficult. One would think that choosing to spend the day golfing, or hiking in a park would automatically mean patrons would follow the rules. However, somewhere along the line, people of all ages seem to have lost this respect.
I am constantly instructing students not to pound on electronic exhibits, break branches off of trees, or jump on floating docks. Adults frequently disregard the signs and leave the center with hands full of flowers and cattails. They don’t do it in a mean-spirited fashion, but seem to be unaware of the damage they are causing.
Golf course employees struggle with politely telling people how to drive carts in the right places, repair ball marks, and be respectful of other golfers by showing up for their scheduled tee time.
We can no longer assume that people know how to behave in common spaces. We need to be deliberate about teaching people what used to be taught at home. We must publish these rules and put them at all of our park sites from pools to golf courses, from skate parks to ice arenas. While keeping quiet is not always appropriate, the rest of the rules will transfer to other sites run by park and recreation departments.
Perhaps if we work together to hold up a mirror to these behaviors, we can turn this around.
Dr. Karen I. Shragg is Director of the Wood Lake Nature Center for the City of Richfield, Minn. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.