While navigating the spellbinding terrain along the Pacific Crest Trail, I found it difficult to resist the temptation to take photos.
Each endless vista around each corner was more jaw-dropping than the last! As I hiked onward, smartphone in hand, impermanence was weighed against the magnitude of the moment. “After all, you may never see these places again,” reminded my sage hiking partner. I had to contemplate whether looking at the staggering scenery through an electronic screen was detaching me from the present experience.
Pictures, they say, are worth a thousand words. As technologically savvy outdoor users continue to capture the backcountry, thousands of images quickly escalates to millions of views. Fascinating photographs, online trip reports, and guidebooks alike showcase the Great Outdoors. These artistic depictions of the natural world can stimulate us to explore; each is a conduit into a greater adventure, encouraging a connection to a place. From the beginning, they have inspired protection and enjoyment of New York’s wild places. Today, however, social media posts are spurring outdoor recreation at an unprecedented rate that some see as threatening that protection and enjoyment.
What’s the problem?
So what’s the problem with the increased sharing of our natural world? A surge of visitors enters the Forest Preserve with limited exposure to proper wild land ethics. The lack of planning, preparation, and trail etiquette can affect our natural resources in a multitude of ways: fragile ecosystems can become degraded, trails erode, lakeside campsites become denuded, and the quality of one’s overall outdoor experience is altered. By constantly advertising how we experience the natural world via technological gadgets and applications, might we be jeopardizing the intangible wilderness characteristics that are innate in the resource?
A significant uptick in outdoor recreation has been widely reported across the Adirondacks. Parking lots are filling, crowds are forming, and the improper disposal of human waste is a pressing issue. Over 73,000 people registered at the trailheads surrounding ADK’s Heart Lake Program Center alone in 2016. Nationwide, tens of millions entered our public lands and engaged in human-powered recreation, according to the Outdoor Recreation Participation Topline Report (www.outdoorfoundation.org). As wilderness recreation continues to gain momentum, and as human population continues to expand, we must be cognizant that the cumulative effect of people using public lands will continue to increase.
As we pursue dramatic scenes for great social media posts, our campsites inch closer to water, and fragile soils atop precipitous slides are trampled. Intrepid thrill-seekers find increasingly perilous perches to achieve “like-worthy” photographs. Our zeal for photographic perfection might be causing some of us to stray further from the Leave No Trace ethics that help preserve the natural places we all love.