Leave No Trace (and why you should be practicing it)
The outdoors are not for the elite. No one single person is above picking up material that humans have created in order to preserve the natural state of these outdoor locations.
Leave No Trace is an organization dedicated to teaching our society how to recreate responsibly, providing a a set of 7 Guidelines and Principles that encourage us to:
1) Plan Ahead and Prepare
2) Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
3) Dispose of Waste Properly
4) Leave What You Find
5) Minimize Campfire Impacts
6) Respect Wildlife
7) Be Considerate of Other Visitors
"8) Social Media Usage Principle which is supported by numbers 4 & 7" (https://lnt.org/blog/social-media-and-8th-principle-discussion)
This post will look closer at this "new", eighth Principle, as social media is rapidly shaping and some could say, destroying, our outdoors.
A couple of years back, having just moved to Northern Utah from a study abroad semester in New Zealand (where LNT was birthed), I was soaking in the education that I received while studying Outdoor Recreation. In New Zealand, Leave No Trace was something that was well understood and widely practiced across the outdoors and therefore it became ingrained in my every day choices. I took some notice of the growth that Instagram was gaining, especially in the outdoors, and as a landscape photographer, I became just as obsessed with documenting what I was seeing. I felt that I was doing my part by only taking photographs but I began to watch this platform create negative, real life actions.
The places that I had once experienced in almost total silence and definitely without random pieces of toilet paper lingering or a Lays bag of chips tossed about by the wind, were suddenly becoming infiltrated. Trash became more common, parking began to grow as an issue, and I found myself waking up earlier to get ahead of the crowds. To top it off, I have started to just pick up everything I see because I am not confident that it would otherwise ever be picked up. As I scrolled through Instagram after an awesome outing, I began to take notice of some of the places that I had scoured over a real, paper map, in search of. They were riddled with hashtags, geotags, and account tags in the name of fame.
My frustration grew rapidly and I began to take personal offense when accounts with a large following were posting about these locations. Why did they need to include that hashtag, why couldn't they just geo-tag the whole state and not a specific place, wilderness, or anything? Didn't they know that they could make up a location that would give nothing away?
I was met with harsh words whenever I tried to combat it via Instagram, claiming that I was pushing for an elitism outdoor population or that I was not be inclusive. Angered, I realized why I was hurting from their misunderstandings: they weren't always fighting for Leave No Trace, they were only using it when they were suddenly impacted by people not practicing LNT. All I wanted was for accounts with a reach, to be more encouraging of the practices, to included it everyday in their posts somehow. My frustration fueled my negativity which became negative interactions over social media until I realized that I needed to fight this problem in reverse: kill them with kindness.
I began to search. I searched for accounts that were also living with an elevated awareness of LNT and the understanding that it's not about keeping people out of these places, it's about teaching them to care for them correctly. So far, I have come across far more accounts ran by females who embody these ideas and values and I am thankful for each any every person who is using their influence in the name of protecting our outdoors. You're making a bigger difference than you might feel but hang in there, if the outdoors became a trend, so can protecting them.
Here's my advice:
1) Buy a physical map and let it become your bible. Your phone should only be the assistance you need after you've already done your research. I still cannot believe some of the campsites I have landed upon all thanks to opening up the map.
2) Include LNT in your everyday life. It's one thing to respect the guidelines and principles but it's time to embody them. Start by picking up the trash you see on your everyday trails, be the "Poop Fairy" that a ton of people think exists but doesn't.
3) If you love your outdoors, find a different tag. I began experimenting with finding the most unique, weirdest geo-tags that I could find, simply by just typing words into the location search bar. Let me tell you, there are some really awesome geo-tags you can use that have nothing to do with the wilderness, state, county, country, ANYTHING.
4) When people ask, "where is this" or even comment, "is this _(specific location)_?" don't respond; if you have to respond because you don't want to be that person, redirect them positively and maybe even privately via direct message. I have been known to respond via message and then delete the posted comment as to keep it all low, low key.
5) Don't be afraid to call someone out for geo-tagging too specifically or for hash-tagging a location that say isn't a National Park (a location that you must pay to visit and the profits go back into maintaining the park after our nasty habits). Remember: it's not about keeping people out of the outdoors, it's about educating them on how to interact with the outdoors.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts, opinions, and questions below or privately by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org