How to Talk to Your Friends about Public Lands

For most outdoor recreationists, talking about being out in nature comes, well, naturally.

We share photos from our trips. We rave about the views we enjoyed and the wildlife we encountered. We invite our friends to join us on our next adventure.

But, when it comes to talking about the policies that govern the public lands we love to explore, many of us clam up.

And, that’s a problem because now more than ever, everyone who loves public lands needs to be speaking up for them. We risk losing these places if we’re not vocal about them.

Here’s how Bend, Oregon outdoor enthusiast Jeremy Fox made the leap from talking about exploring public lands to talking about protecting public lands.

He threw a backyard barbecue.

Bend local Ian Farquhar, one of the guests at Fox’s party, talked about growing up surrounded by public lands. Photo: Gena Goodman-Campbell

Fox, who is an instructor for Oregon Adaptive Sports, a naturalist guide for Wanderlust Tours, and the founder of Great Blue Heron Adventures, is no stranger to introducing people to recreational opportunities on public lands. And, he’d talked informally with his friends about public lands issues before, but, he said, “It was new to host an event with advocacy being the main theme.”

Fox was one of the first few dozen people to sign up with Oregon Natural Desert Association to be a Public Land Leader. ONDA launched this program to make it simple and fun for their members and supporters to talk with their friends and family about public lands in Oregon’s high desert and to encourage others to speak up for these lands.

Throwing a get-together is one of activities that leaders can participate in, and ONDA even chips in on the food and beverage costs to help make it easy to plan.

To recruit his barbecue attendees, Fox cast a fairly wide net, inviting his co-workers, past and present and other non-work friends, and encouraging everyone to bring their own friends/family as well. He sent out a text to every “Bend” contact in his phone, and his housemate contacted her network via Facebook.

The party planning, Fox reported, came together easily. “Even though I’d told people food and beverages were provided, several people showed up with more food and it turned into a potluck!”

He and ONDA staff member Gena Goodman-Campbell discussed good flow for the advocacy part of the evening ahead of time, and Goodman-Campbell brought over all the literature, pens and postcards he would need for the interactive “take action now” part of the event.

Martha Stewart would approve of the “Take Action” table display. Photo: Gena Goodman-Campbell

The casual format ONDA proposed worked well for Fox, who said, “It’s not a “cram info down your throat” style. The planner gets to decide the tone of the event. It’s easy and fun,” adding, “This kind of grassroots advocacy is effective because it sparks conversations, informs, and educates.”

Since his successful party in August, Fox says he has had follow-up conversations with his friends about the effectiveness of phone calls versus postcards to elected officials and the influence that small business owners have when contacting representatives, and, best of all, how fun the casual get-together was.

If you’re an Oregonian who is interested in becoming a Public Land Leader, contact Gena Goodman-Campbell, gena@onda.org, or learn more at www.onda.org/PublicLandLeaders

What are you waiting for?