How Social Media is Affecting The Outdoors

By MORGAN SHANNON | March, 5 2019

More than 3 million visitors will travel to Yellowstone National Park this year, many of them stopping at the park’s northern entrance to admire and photograph the large, stone archway that gracefully circumvents the roadway.

There, inscribed into the top of the Roosevelt Arch are the words: "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.”

Without further thought, visitors then pile back into their cars and go on to explore over 2 million acres of preserved land. Land that, according to the National Park Service mantra, was intentionally protected for the “enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

With several National and State parks reporting record-breaking visitation year over year, you might be thinking, “well, that was sort of the point.”

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In an era captivated by hashtags and instant gratification, our wild places are seeing an influx in ‘enjoyment,’ that is beginning to blur the line between appreciation and the old adage to, “leave it better than you found it.”

The Outdoors as an Afterthought

Conservationists, environmentalists, and general outdoor enthusiasts are becoming increasingly alarmed that with the ability to universally share awe-inspiring landscapes and locations. Social media can create an “I’ve been there” attitude.

With more people flocking to wild places to snap selfies and climb precarious (and often illegal) off-trail ledges for Instagram-worthy captures, there is growing concern that fragile ecosystems can’t sustain the rise in traffic.

Despite efforts to mitigate damage, cherished landscapes across the country are being overwhelmed by cavalier travelers and their improperly disposed of trash.

Last year, Colorado’s crowned-jewel, Maroon bells, succumbed to what district ranger, Karen Schroyer, refers to as “social trails” and “shortcuts.” To compete with an uptick in off-trail foot traffic, the U.S. Forest Service installed posts and ropes to keep people from trekking through and destroying delicate ecosystems.

An all too familiar story unraveled at the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, where a hiker decided inscribe his beloved Instagram handle onto the side of a stone. Fortunately, his carelessness made him pretty easy to track down, thanks to...social media.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for False Kiva, a ceremonial site tucked within Canyonlands National Park. Although it’s not listed on any official park maps, social media has lead vandals and careless campers to the site, prompting the park to close the False Kiva alcove altogether.

Sadly, these aren’t isolated incidents. News stories are flooding mainstream media every day, recounting horror stories of misbehaved tourists acting out against Mother Nature. And with each story, the headlines allude to social media being the ultimate culprit.

So, while spending time outdoors has always been a popular pastime, in today’s culture, a simple geotag search via social media can result in aesthetic images of unkempt fires, illegal campsites, and behaviors that contradict preservation efforts.

While these stunning images evoke a sense of adventure, they also tend to inspire the masses to follow suit. Inadvertently, social media has taught the aspiring outdoor community that it’s ok to pitch a tent at Taft Point in Yosemite, get up close and personal with bison in Yellowstone, or build a fire on the shores of Schwabacher's Landing in Grand Teton.

The Flip Side of the Debate

There are two sides to every story. While social media platforms started out as a really great way to share a photo of your food or brag to your buddies about a recent trip to the Bahamas, they’ve since transformed into a global podium for discussing large-scale issues and generating awareness about important topics.

So, while social media can influence people to misbehave outdoors, it can also be leveraged constructively to promote sustainability and empower people to protect and preserve our wild places.

For example, the Adirondack council has been speaking out about the impacts social media has had on the Adirondack mountains. However, they insist that “if we see our network following the rules, and embracing conservation ethics, it may encourage other to do the same.”

Andy Mossey, an outdoors advocate for the Catskill Center, also believes that “although social media is bringing more people to the area... it’s also a valuable tool that conservation organizations use to communicate with visitors about conservation efforts and needed resources.”

In a recent display of social media unity, the outdoor community rallied together across several social media platforms to show support to National Parks during the government shutdown. Several reputable outdoor brands, like the North Face, Columbia, and REI have used their large social media presence to craft witty hashtags and inspire people to do their part to protect our nation’s most incredible natural wonders.

In other words, social media influence can sway the masses either way. Carefully crafted captions beneath idolized images have the same power to educate the public on the positive impacts of doing the right thing. So, if you find yourself online, remember the new, unofficial eighth LNT principle - be aware of what you share online.

Conclusion

With millions of acres set aside purely for preservation and enjoyment, it makes you wonder why anyone would go out of their way to intentionally destroy our most cherished wilderness.

But whether visitors choose to ignore outdoor etiquette or are just unfamiliar with Leave No Trace principles, is really up to interpretation. Either way, mainstream sharing has put our parklands in the palm of everyone's hands, and the impact is apparent.

Morgan Shannon

Morgan is a freelance photographer and blogger from the Pacific Northwest. An avid adventurer and outdoor enthusiast, when she isn't writing, you'll find her somewhere in the Cascades or car-camping across the states.

How Social Media is Affecting The Outdoors

BY MORGAN SHANNON | 3.5.2019

More than 3 million visitors will travel to Yellowstone National Park this year, many of them stopping at the park’s northern entrance to admire and photograph the large, stone archway that gracefully circumvents the roadway.

There, inscribed into the top of the Roosevelt Arch are the words: "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.”

Without further thought, visitors then pile back into their cars and go on to explore over 2 million acres of preserved land. Land that, according to the National Park Service mantra, was intentionally protected for the “enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

With several National and State parks reporting record-breaking visitation year over year, you might be thinking, “well, that was sort of the point.”

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In an era captivated by hashtags and instant gratification, our wild places are seeing an influx in ‘enjoyment,’ that is beginning to blur the line between appreciation and the old adage to, “leave it better than you found it.”

The Outdoors as an Afterthought

Conservationists, environmentalists, and general outdoor enthusiasts are becoming increasingly alarmed that with the ability to universally share awe-inspiring landscapes and locations. Social media can create an “I’ve been there” attitude.

With more people flocking to wild places to snap selfies and climb precarious (and often illegal) off-trail ledges for Instagram-worthy captures, there is growing concern that fragile ecosystems can’t sustain the rise in traffic.

Despite efforts to mitigate damage, cherished landscapes across the country are being overwhelmed by cavalier travelers and their improperly disposed of trash.

Last year, Colorado’s crowned-jewel, Maroon bells, succumbed to what district ranger, Karen Schroyer, refers to as “social trails” and “shortcuts.” To compete with an uptick in off-trail foot traffic, the U.S. Forest Service installed posts and ropes to keep people from trekking through and destroying delicate ecosystems.

An all too familiar story unraveled at the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, where a hiker decided inscribe his beloved Instagram handle onto the side of a stone. Fortunately, his carelessness made him pretty easy to track down, thanks to...social media.  

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for False Kiva, a ceremonial site tucked within Canyonlands National Park. Although it’s not listed on any official park maps, social media has lead vandals and careless campers to the site, prompting the park to close the False Kiva alcove altogether.

Sadly, these aren’t isolated incidents. News stories are flooding mainstream media every day, recounting horror stories of misbehaved tourists acting out against Mother Nature. And with each story, the headlines allude to social media being the ultimate culprit.

So, while spending time outdoors has always been a popular pastime, in today’s culture, a simple geotag search via social media can result in aesthetic images of unkempt fires, illegal campsites, and behaviors that contradict preservation efforts.

While these stunning images evoke a sense of adventure, they also tend to inspire the masses to follow suit. Inadvertently, social media has taught the aspiring outdoor community that it’s ok to pitch a tent at Taft Point in Yosemite, get up close and personal with bison in Yellowstone, or build a fire on the shores of Schwabacher's Landing in Grand Teton.

The Flip Side of the Debate

There are two sides to every story. While social media platforms started out as a really great way to share a photo of your food or brag to your buddies about a recent trip to the Bahamas, they’ve since transformed into a global podium for discussing large-scale issues and generating awareness about important topics.

So, while social media can influence people to misbehave outdoors, it can also be leveraged constructively to promote sustainability and empower people to protect and preserve our wild places.

For example, the Adirondack council has been speaking out about the impacts social media has had on the Adirondack mountains. However, they insist that “if we see our network following the rules, and embracing conservation ethics, it may encourage other to do the same.”

Andy Mossey, an outdoors advocate for the Catskill Center, also believes that “although social media is bringing more people to the area... it’s also a valuable tool that conservation organizations use to communicate with visitors about conservation efforts and needed resources.”

In a recent display of social media unity, the outdoor community rallied together across several social media platforms to show support to National Parks during the government shutdown. Several reputable outdoor brands, like the North Face, Columbia, and REI have used their large social media presence to craft witty hashtags and inspire people to do their part to protect our nation’s most incredible natural wonders.

In other words, social media influence can sway the masses either way. Carefully crafted captions beneath idolized images have the same power to educate the public on the positive impacts of doing the right thing. So, if you find yourself online, remember the new, unofficial eighth LNT principle - be aware of what you share online.

Conclusion

With millions of acres set aside purely for preservation and enjoyment, it makes you wonder why anyone would go out of their way to intentionally destroy our most cherished wilderness.

But whether visitors choose to ignore outdoor etiquette or are just unfamiliar with Leave No Trace principles, is really up to interpretation. Either way, mainstream sharing has put our parklands in the palm of everyone's hands, and the impact is apparent.

Morgan Shannon

Morgan is a freelance photographer and blogger from the Pacific Northwest. An avid adventurer and outdoor enthusiast, when she isn't writing, you'll find her somewhere in the Cascades or car-camping across the states.

Comment 1

Donna Von Sprecken on

Morgan, your writings are informative and so well done. Sadly, people just seem to disrespect Mother Natures beauty. It angers me every time I see fools leaving their “mark”. Hopefully your posts will assist in stopping at least some of it. Thank you!!!

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