On Leave No Trace and Social Media

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics recently released Leave No Trace and Social Media, an addition to the organization's framework around responsible enjoyment of the outdoors. And I was stoked. 

It's clear adoption of social media has an impact on the popularity of outdoor places, and as a result, an impact on resources. Resource impacts include everything from overflowing parking lots to more trash left behind, human waste disposed of improperly, trail overuse, increases in human-wildlife interaction, unnatural erosion, and more, even wildfires and deaths.

My fiance on a viewing platform at Fjaðrárgljúfur in Iceland. The cliff edges were all worn with trails,
some of which were blocked off, but who knows how long it'll take for some of that vegetation to grow back.

So knowing Leave No Trace, the primary organization teaching people how to responsibly enjoy the outdoors, recognizes social media's impact is a big deal. But it's complicated.

This new set of guidelines (hopefully) means there'll be more discussion around what happens when someone posts a photo of a tent where tents shouldn't go, or a fire pit where there shouldn't be one, and what message that sends. Or even around what happens when a spectacularly beautiful spot is posted about so often that its resources are stretched beyond capacity.

I learned about the concept of stewardship early on at a job in Denali National Park. People are more likely to advocate for the protection of a place they're connected to in some way. And it's hard to connect to a place you haven't been to, or haven't truly experienced. I want people to connect to the trails, mountains, rivers, streams, and waterfalls I love because that might give those places a chance to be advocated for more loudly, more widely. These places aren't reserved for any of us exclusively. But it's a balance.

When we were researching places to go in Iceland, I saw pictures of this gorgeus waterfall EVERYWHERE.
And that's definitely part of why we went to see it.

For anyone reading Adventure-Inspired, it's clear trip reports are a big piece of my collection of content. I write them primarily because (1) I want to be a resource for people looking to responsibly enjoy the places I've been, and (2) they're like journal entries for me, a chance to look back on experiences I've had.

I've been able to thoroughly plan safe, enjoyable trips almost exclusively by reading others' trip reports and pairing them with trail maps. For hikes in the northeast, I rely heavily on sites like NJ Hiking, CNY Hiking, and Section Hiker. They're valuable, useful, and helped me so much that it feels important I do the same for others if I can.

But there's this internal dialogue I've had lately about balancing what I share about a place with how sharing anything at all impacts that place, even if it's just a photo. Just because I'm a smaller fish in an ocean full of more popular bloggers, outdoor publications, Instagrammers, etc., doesn't mean I'm not responsible for being thoughtful and careful.

In this shot on top of Mt. Mansfield, I'm being careful to stay on the trail because the vegetation at this elevation
is incredibly fragile. What message would it send if instead, this was a shot of me stepping off the planks and on to
plants that won't grow back for decades? Ironically, my feet are among the reasons those planks are there at all.

In sharing where I've been, and making it possible for others to follow along with how I got there, am I contributing to the degradation of those places? Or if people are going to visit these places anyway, by helping enable people to find the right trails, go the right way, and embark on a hike adequately prepared, am I actually helping minimize degradation?

I'm certainly not ignoring the fact that sites like The Outbound and forums like Instagram continue to expose me to places I didn't know existed, so I visit them, and am one more set of feet treading on a place I may not have discovered otherwise. Like I said, it's complicated.

I started Adventure-Inspired in 2009 when social media was just starting to become a popular communication medium. Both Twitter and Facebook played a huge role in this website gaining any level of popularity. Social media continues to be a big part of how other outdoor enthusiasts find me, how I get offers to test products, and how I engage with people I'd never engage with or know about outdoor adventures.

This spot is part of the Virginia Triple Crown, which I didn't know existed until the state found my website, reached out to me
to ask if I'd be willing to come down and do it. I'd have to guess social media played a role in this trip happening at all!

I don't have any complete answers to what all of this means yet, and though the impact of social media on the outdoors is significant, it's also new, and everything's changing all the time. But one thing's for sure - we all need to talk about it!

What do you think about these new guidelines? Do you use social media to share and to find places to hike, camp, etc.? Have you noticed any obvious impacts related to social media on places you visit? 

Read more from Modern Hiker and A Colorado Gal on the topic. It's an important discussion for us to have.