HOW TO BUILD A COALITION AND SAVE A RECREATION AREA
Let’s start with some assumptions:
1. Your recreation or riding area is under threat of restrictions or closures – if not now, then someday. Perhaps an “Endangered Species” is just waiting to be found. Perhaps your area is prime for a Wilderness designation.
2. You’re not the only one who recreates out there; there are other riders and other types of recreation or land use taking place in your favorite spot.
3. You’re not a big “joiner,” but maybe you are a member of a virtual club.
4. You have not assumed that someone else is going to save your recreation area.
5. There are probably a few uninformed folks using your area who don’t follow all the rules, do not stay on designated routes, and leave trash behind.
6. Someday, you want your kids enjoying this same area and recreation.
So what’s next?
If you want to save this area, you’d best start making something happen. Here’s how to form a coalition or “friends” type group to save your trail or recreation area.
From the onset, I recommend your coalition be multiple-use (all interests and users). One definition of coalition is, “An alliance of factions formed for a specific purpose.” You’ll understand the reason for this better as you read through the process.
→STEP ONE is “Step up to the plate.” Only one person needs start a recreation-saving effort. But someone does need to step up and start the ball rolling. Do not assume someone else is out there saving your play area/trail. You can take the first actions and start the ball rolling. Step up to the plate and label yourself as the “go to” person of a trail or area, or as that person who wants to bring everyone together to save an area.
→STEP TWO is to communicate — begin collecting emails and contact information for other folks who might be interested in your area. Start an emailing list or network.
Take a multiple-use and multi-modality approach. Get in touch with all forms of users (equestrians, snowmobilers, ATVers, wheelers, rock collectors, sheep herders, hunters, etc.) who might be using your area. Align your group with other groups of similar interest. Consider a blog or Facebook group account for your new organization. Get the word out. Ask people to invite others of like mind to your group.
By aligning with multiple interests right off the bat, you can save yourself tons of work and wheel reinventing. Besides, we must be unified in our efforts and find ways to reduce user conflict before we ever get in front of an elected official or government agent to ask for grant money or more help in saving a trail.
An email list is important, but you can also use the social network group idea if all your users are part of Facebook, for example. You can also do a blog about your trail or area and bring daylight to your issues. No matter how you do it, get hooked up with everyone and anyone that might be an ally for your recreation area. Get folks talking.
→STEP THREE is to advertise. Develop a web site quickly (buy the domain name and post up a contact page). Keep your web site domain name as simple as possible, but yet recognizable as who you are. Get a volunteer to help you build a simple site, or use a service such as WordPress or Weebly.
Through your email network (or meetings if you have the luxury), build a Mission or Purpose Statement. Promote this. Send out flyers to local merchants. Send letters to local elected officials introducing your group and your interest. Conduct field trips and “ride-alongs.” Get your county commissioner or Board of Supervisors out on the ground with you. Write a press release to your local papers and write letters to the editors. Let the world know that “Friends of” exists and they’d best deal with you when it comes to talking about that area.
→STEP FOUR is organizational development. Build your membership through word of mouth and emailing networks. Have at least one official meeting a year; the rest of your business might easily be handled by email and field trips. Set up an informal chain of command so you have folks you can delegate tasks and projects. Encourage volunteers to take the reins and run a clean up or trail maintenance project. Advertise everything you do. Find a volunteer who writes, and ask them to do a few articles about your new coalition and the work you are doing. Take a member of the local press out with you and let them write the story (as long as they are friendly to your cause).
No matter how many meetings you do or don’t have, run your meetings well. Too many meetings, or poorly run meetings can kill a coalition quickly. Visit my web site for a guaranteed winning way to run a meeting (www.delalbright.com/meetings.htm)
I am not suggesting that you need to go overboard with “officialdom” or get very bureaucratic. In fact, I am suggesting you try to keep things simple. FOTR, for example, has no dues; no structure; no officers or Board of Directors, and it works just fine. Donations come in when needed, and are mostly project related and nowadays are handled by the Rubicon Trail Foundation (RTF) with its officialdom.
However, each case is different. It would depend on the area politics and interests of the group. Visit organized recreation web sites for more ideas on club-building or incorporation. The National Off Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) has great resources for starting a club (www.nohvcc.org).
→STEP FIVE is to stay alive as a group. This is the ongoing process of keeping folks informed; letting your members vote on issues (Facebook “polls” work well) and become project leaders so they have ownership in the area. Make your coalition an inclusive effort wherein everyone has a say. Schedule an annual cleanup to keep folks interested in preserving the riding area. Plan fun events in your riding area, such as picnics, informal meetings, rides, and family outings. Conduct raffles if your group likes them. Keep your group alive.
This article gives you the foundation to start a coalition and begin saving your riding area. The formula works. I will help you through this process, step by step if you’d like. Feel free to contact me.