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Does Social Media Impact the Trails We Love?

Posted by Erika Haugen-Goodman at Sep 29, 2015 02:05 PM |
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Social media can be a powerful tool for sharing ideas, inspiration and information, but does it have the potential to negatively impact Washington's trails and wilderness areas?

As hikers, we love to share the incredible trails we’ve hiked and the amazing sights we see along the way. We snap photos and share them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and it feels good to show off the product of your day on trail. Whether it’s an emerald alpine lake, or the summit of a snow-capped mountain, we take pride in the positive reinforcement that comes from sharing fun photos of the places we love to visit.

But do these photos have the potential to negatively impact trails we all love to hike?

Kicking off a conversation worth having

Seattle-based adventure photographer Scott Rinckenberger recently jump-started this crucial conversation among his fellow photographers and his (not insignificant) following on Instagram by posing the question to his followers on Instagram:

Scott Rinckenberger

Scott's followers replied with a range of thoughtful opinions.

One viewpoint expressed over and over again in the thread was that of inclusion, a feeling that everyone should be able to visit public lands. Some answers focused on the long-term damage caused to fragile areas when hikers flock in larger numbers, spurred by the sharing of these locations on social media. Commenters also voiced concerns about educating new hikers who might be visiting trails without a solid grounding in trail etiquette or Leave No Trace practices.

Scott weighed in on his blog after he posed the question to his Instagram audience, and outlined a nuanced view of his own. His entire blog is worth a read, but here's a sample:

Our amazing public lands are one of the greatest gifts we have as humans. They should be enjoyed by everyone who has the inspiration and energy to visit. As someone who has been fortunate to travel widely in beautiful places, I understand the transformative power it can have for an individual and the potential it has to create a better world for all. I feel strongly compelled to share the stories and the images that come from stepping into the great outdoors. Furthermore, it has been widely established that the only places that are protected are those places that have a voice. Photos, stories and conservation efforts from users of the outdoors are imperative in maintaining and expanding their protection.

But, with [these] gifts that are offered by the wild places, there also comes great responsibility. From the parking lot and outhouse to the campsites and summits, there is no excuse to leave any mark or item if it can be in any way avoided. If my work inspires a visit, than let the Leave No Trace Guidelines dictate the manner in which the visit is conducted.

WTA's take: inspire, empower, educate

There is no doubt that Washington has some of the best hiking trails in the nation, and perhaps the world. But as more people are hiking and sharing photos from their camps and adventuressome of those trails have become threatened with overuse. Some trails are built to handle more boots than others, but some fragile, alpine spots are showing the pressures of so much attention.

So, how can everyone who wants to enjoy Washington's trails do so without loving them to death?
There are no easy answers. More people hiking means more people speaking up for trails, and trail funding and that's a good thing. It also means that the hiking community needs to hold ourselves to a higher standard of responsibility.

WTA is dedicated to helping inspire and connect people to our amazing public trails while also educating hikers on how to enjoy the outdoors in a way where our collective impact on these wild spaces is kept to a minimum. With your help, we can ensure that our trails will be here for future generations to enjoy.

Here are a few ways to preserve the trails we love to hike:
  • Positive-impact hikes. Learn about and Practice Leave No Trace principles, and go beyond zero-impact to leave trails better than you found them, every single time.
  • Share responsibly. Your posts matter. If you hike, you are an ambassador for trails. If you share fragile locations on social media, consider using a broader location description to avoid promoting a single destination. Get five tips for responsible social sharing of your trail adventures.
  • Mix up your hiking destinations. You can lessen the impact on popular trails by seeking out less publicized trails. Research and discover the joys of hiking on the thousands of existing trails around the state.
  • Write a trip report when you hike to let others know about conditions. Make a note if you see a trail or area suffering from irresponsible use.

What do you think?

Do you have a tip for responsible social sharing? Do you have ideas about how sharing photos on social media can be used to educate or positively influence trails at risk? Share your thoughts below, on our social channels or on Scott's blog.