A North Vancouver dad has some advice for hikers heading out into the North Shore’s trails and forests: always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder. Even if it involves taking a few risks.
That’s a stark contrast to messages on some official signs that recently went up in a local forest area known as Digger Park, where yellow and black signs warn hikers of potential perils afoot in a walk in the woods.
The signs include graphics of stick figures being hit by falling trees and tripping over uneven ground. “You are entering an unmaintained forested area. Use caution!” the signs state.
Jaap Suter said at first he and other neighbours thought the municipal signs were a joke: “That a tiny little forest is dangerous. [We] couldn’t believe it was real,” he said.
That got him thinking, said Suter, who says he lives in North Vancouver precisely because of proximity to the natural world of forests and mountains.
“I think back to my own childhood, and we would be out and about playing in the forest all day long and we wouldn’t even come home until dinnertime,” he said. “The world needs more unmaintained nature.”
Suter decided pointing that out was a job for “Sign Guy.”
Quicker than you can say “liability waiver” Suter got busy creating some nature-positive messages and printing them on coroplast sign material.
When the break in the weather came, Sign Guy struck.
Park goers now have some alternate messages to consider.
“Warning. You are about to enjoy a magical and beautiful thing called nature,” states one. “Try to put your phone away. And take a deep breath. You might love it.”
Other sides warn hikers, “Surroundings may spark spontaneous joy. And occasional sense of magic and wonder.”
“Smell the roses. Climb a tree. Adventure awaits,” reads another.
Suter says his only intention is to make people smile when they see the signs, and to remind them there are big rewards for taking a few small risks.
“If we start creating a world where the default assumption about unmaintained areas is they’re dangerous, then it’s kind of evolving towards a culture where we get scared and we get paranoid about everything instead of just going out and getting your hands dirty and exploring and having an adventure,” he said.
Sign Guy has promised to remove the parody signs “before the first daffodil” as a gesture of goodwill.
Suter’s subversive messages encouraging folks to go outside haven’t gone unnoticed.
“District staff are aware of the ‘District of Nature Everywhere’ signage,” said municipal spokeswoman Courtenay Rannard, who added the original district signs were posted in December “as a precaution to visitors.”
District of North Vancouver Coun. Mathew Bond has also seen the guerilla signs. “It’s a good-natured satirical comment on society in general,” he said. “It gave everyone in the neighbourhood a chuckle.”
Bond said as an outdoor community, people on the North Shore know the benefits of unstructured play and recreation. Sign Guy is “reminding us of that in a kind of fun way,” he said.