How to Talk to Tourists: Advice from River Ambassadors

Nevada City has a population of around 3,500 people. Each year, over 800,000 people visit our local shops, eat at restaurants, walk the trails, and, of course, head down to the Yuba River to explore its wild and scenic beauty. During COVID, these numbers rose. 

Such a high influx of visitors, many of whom are unaware of river safety and etiquette, can create problems along the river. Given that we do not see the numbers of guests decreasing, we would like to share a few pieces of advice for constructive conversations with guests that we have learned from talking to thousands of visitors via our River Ambassador program, which we host in partnership with California State Parks.

Using Invitational Rhetoric 

Invitational Rhetoric assumes that the goal of communication is to create understanding. It is based on the premise that we all have very different lived experiences and backgrounds and communicating openly and honestly can help to illuminate some of those differences. 

Invitational rhetoric also offers a new orientation: that the goal of communication is not to “win” an argument or prove that one person is right and the other wrong. Rather, the goal is to figure out where the other person (or people) are coming from so as to create understanding. Invitational rhetoric can be used to build community, articulate a perspective, and discover knowledge.

What does that mean in the case of visitors to the Yuba? How can I use invitational rhetoric? 

First, approach the situation by considering that the person with whom you are talking is likely not accustomed to our local practices. They may be here because a friend recommended they visit or perhaps they saw a picture of Emerald Pools on Instagram. Its quite possible they were drawn by the beauty of the place–the same beauty that enchants us–and, as a result, did not consider that there may not be trashcans at the trailhead…or a bathroom. In a rush to get to the river, they may have copy-catted the car parked in front of them and now there are multiple cars with their tires over the white line, obstructing traffic. In short, it helps to approach the situation with this in mind: they may not understand what the rules are or why those are the rules.

In cases like these, it is best to explain the “why” behind what we do. Below, we offer a few ways you can frame your conversation to help foreground understanding.

A South Yuba River State Park Ranger approaches a mother who was swimming with her toddler during high flows.
A River Ambassador volunteer assists tourists at Hwy 49.

Long time volunteer, Barbara Jones, told us “as a River Ambassador, we go to river crossings to remind people to be good stewards of our river,” which means sometimes asking them, “do you need a trash bag, I have an extra?” or “do you need a poop bag? I have an extra.” And when she warns people about fire danger, she makes sure to tell people “As you can see, a fire in this river canyon would be really hard to put out and puts our community at risk and I live 4 miles away.”

Here are some other tips:

llegal Parking: If you noticed someone parking over the white line on one of the roads or in a place with a No Parking sign, you can say to them “Hey, I noticed you parked your car over the white line. Law enforcement officials have been out today ticketing for that because if people park over the white line, fire trucks and ambulances can’t get down here in an emergency, including a wildfire. Do you think you could hop back in and move a little further to the right?”

Fire Danger: If you see someone carrying a BBQ down to the river, you can greet them and say, “Is that a BBQ? The County does not allow fire of any kind down at the river, in large part because this area is at very high risk area for wildfire. If a spark starts in the river canyon, we could all lose our homes, especially given that this place is so hard to get to and emergency response times are long.”

Glass: Lots of beverages come in glass bottles, but they can create danger when dropped on the granite boulders that line the Yuba. If you see someone carrying glass, you can say, “Hey, how are you doing? I noticed that you are carrying glass bottles to the river. I’m worried about the bottles breaking on all the granite boulders, and that the river won’t be a safe place for kids, myself, and my dog. Do you think you could leave them in your car?”

Pets: We love our pets and, as a result, we tend to take them with us everywhere. The problem is that when they create waste and we don’t pick it up, it can create water quality problems. If you see someone who needs a poop bag, you can offer it to them if you have one. “Hey…do you need a poop bag? I have an extra one here. I always carry extras because sometimes people end up at the river without one and this river sees hundreds of dogs a day. All that waste can compromise water quality.”

Being patient isn’t always easy, especially with a seemingly endless flow of visitors, but it can help to increase the effectiveness of these interactions. 

Get Involved

 If you’d like to learn more about how to talk with visitors, volunteer with us and become a River Ambassador. This unique partnership with State Parks will give you the opportunity to practice teaching our visitors how to love the Yuba like a local. Plus, you get to hang out with some of our fantastic and fun SYRCL crew.

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