By Barbara Tiberi:
Big Sur Businesses Can’t Do It All
I lived in Big Sur for 20 years, and when we first got there, traffic was insignificant. There were just enough visitors to keep folks in business, and the businesses could handle educating everybody personally about the delicate environment. The balance was perfect. But now it seems askew, there are way too many visitors and the businesses can’t possibly educate all of them, not with the number of inexperienced visitors coming. Everyone is waiting for one mistake to be made by just one “stupid tourist” that starts a fire that puts everyone’s life at risk.
The local businesses can’t be expected to carry the load of educating everybody that comes down the highway just because they’re already trying. They need help. The whole community needs to rally behind them on this, including Monterey County Government, State Parks and Cal-Trans, working with businesses and the great local artist community to come up with solutions for managing this tourist inundation. It’s time. Well, that’s an opinion from an ex-pat who’s worried you’re not doing enough to protect yourselves and your world. I’ve done some educational marketing in a past career, and I’ve included a starter plan/template to think about. I think it’s hard for a large group to come up with a plan, but, if you see a plan, you can instantly see the flaws in it, and a better plan comes to mind. So have at it.
1 – Educate people on the way in – Put up some signs.
When I went to Maui, there were signs everywhere telling me what not to do. There were enough signs to make it clear they valued their environment and wouldn’t take any shit, but it didn’t keep me from seeing the beauty of Maui, and didn’t keep me from wanting to go back.
You guys could pick a few turnouts on each road leading into Big Sur and label them proudly as “Big Sur Information Centers.” Put up some colorful fire-safety signs plus whatever info you decide on to help visitors make the right decisions. Put in some port-a-potties. Folks will stop to use the port-a-potties, and read the signs while waiting in line. You’ll keep the highway cleaner while exposing people to your message. Even illegal campers need to pee, and they especially need to know campfire safety.
You could also have more fire safety signs. The current no campfire signs are invisible. Last I saw, they are the same color as the dry grass and dust they are posted in. No wonder people ignore them. Make them award-winningly attractive, colorful and clear. Make them so fun, people WANT to take pictures of them. Make them so fun, the tourists clean them off themselves so they can get better pictures. You need to have a minimum of 3 signs on each roadway heading in to make an impact. Education requires repetition, and the lesson you need to make clear is a life saving, important message. Don’t skimp. Ask yourself, are you trying to protect the view or the environment, or the lives of the people? I think you have a better chance of doing it all if you exchange some of the view on the highway for better informed visitors. Most visitors want to learn about your environment, that’s why they come.
2- Make the fire-safety information valuable to visitors to have in their possession
Enter people who have taken photos of the fire-safety signs into a contest wherein the winner gets a free weekend in a Big Sur hotel or cabin. Notify the media about the contest and make it a huge deal. Have the contest twice a year for a few years to get the word out. Use the whole “37 pieces of flair.”
Also have fire-safety brochures that include a contest entry form in all the businesses and parks for folks who leave their devices at home. If they have the fire safety info on them while they are in Big Sur, they can enter the contest.
Most people from the urban world don’t have experience with wild environment fire-safety. To them, fire-safety means not getting their candle next to a curtain. The amount of moisture in the fuel load is a different language they don’t need to know about at home. You’ll have to teach them about it to protect your world.
Remember, any time folks are waiting in line, you have a chance to educate them, and government agencies have a responsibility to help you manage and educate the huge numbers of tourists, to reduce wildfire risks and costs for everyone. I’m sure you folks can come up with really great ways to educate your visitors. Only you can make it happen, though. Good Luck with the swarm!
Enjoy the space.
Thanks for listening.