By: Ashley Manning
I walk through my front door, sit down on the couch and kick my boots off. Phone in hand, I search through the photos, I took from my recent hike to post on Instagram. I’ve found the one. Simply perfect lighting, the mountains in the background looked incredible, and to top it off I look super cool. I’m going through the same old Instagram process. To use a filter or not to use a filter…? What caption shall I write? What outdoorsy hashtags are trending? Who am I wearing and should I tag them? As I narrow down the perfect post for a Thursday afternoon, the suggestions on GeoTagging pop up. I’ve been good at geotagging to make sure everyone knows where I’ve been! But, the question at the moment is “What are the consequences of geotagging?”
A conversation that is much needed in a time where leave no trace is being ignored and the importance of beautiful social media photos are in high demand.
So, what is Leave No Trace (LNT)?
On the LNT website, there are 7 principles to Leave No Trace.
- Plan Ahead
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impact
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of others
While on the surface, these are obviously good to live by, it’s a good idea to dive deeper into what leave no trace means for adventurers, avid outdoors people, and especially social media influencers.
Social media growing pains
As I post my photo, I only tag the general location of my hike, maybe I tag a wilderness area or perhaps the surrounding town/city, instead of the trail or absolute location of my hike. This makes it a little harder to find out where I was if other people want to go to that destination.
My entire persona on social media is to promote the outdoors and get people from every walk of life outside. However, in this case, I’m making it more difficult for those that are less prepared. Perhaps people will do more research on the area and find LNT tips, or maybe they’ll reach out to me personally and I can remind them of LNT practices. Although Instagram doesn’t hold this ability yet, it’s also a good idea to not even geotag but rather acknowledge the land you are on. It’s important to know if it’s stolen land and give credit to the indigenous tribes that once or still do live upon that land.
Geotagging has made it super easy to access a trail without considering the actual trail or wilderness. I’m originally from Northeast Georgia, home to an amazing hike, Blood Mountain, you may have heard of it.
I have been hiking Blood Mountain my entire life and I noticed that as more and more people posted about this phenomenal hike, the mountain started to diminish. People were leaving trash along the trail and at the top of the mountain, the original trail wasn’t being followed, and people were carving or destroying the rocks, trees, and plant life.
Are they being rude and disrespectful, or is it just that they don’t understand? The last time I hiked Blood Mountain, I felt my heart dropping with each step. The once vibrant and lively mountain was dying of suffocation. The people that maintain the trail posted signs pleading and begging people to stop trashing the place, but those were ignored. What’s the end game?
There has been discussion around closing off certain areas to try and rehabilitate the wild places that have been brutalized.
I often wonder if Blood Mountain was closed for a few years, how long it would take the forest to grow back to its natural wonder.
When is GeoTagging safe?
For a few years, I guided on the Chattooga River and the forest service monitored the commercial trips pretty well. As for private trips, you had to have a permit that you fill out at the put-in. Friends of the river and I had discussions on the best move for Chattooga. How do we make sure this river stays wild and scenic in every way possible?
The suggestion of completely taking the river away from people is always brought up, but that never works, there’s always a group or two or ten that’ll get through. Plus, commercial rafting is such a great way to see the river safely and with LNT practices. There are designated lunch spots, everything is regulated for the life and safety of the river in mind. There, I learned a lot about leave no trace. There, I felt comfortable geotagging the Chattooga, because access is a little harder due to its wild nature and larger rapids.
In a lucky turn of events, I’ve found myself on two different three-week-long Grand Canyon rafting trips. When I post photos from those trips, there are typically no hikes to tag, no areas, just the Grand Canyon (which has been commercialized from top to bottom). If you’re on a private trip, you have regulations to follow and the chances of a private trip going out without being briefed prior to the trip are very low.
Land acknowledgements instead of geotagging.
It’s easy to forget the past, or not even know the history of the place you’re visiting! But it’s important.
Land acknowledgements instead of geotagging will send people into a research hole, maybe they will learn a thing or two. Maybe gain more respect for not only for the land but the indigenous people that own the land. While research is good, sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what land you’re upon.
The Responsibility of an Adventurer
It’s time that adventurers and outdoors people take the time to help educate others if we’re going to show these beautiful places in years to come.
Unknown and local spots become overcrowded and destroyed if we aren’t aware of our own impacts in the outdoors. Photos are fun, we all love to see a good view and smiling face, but let’s throw some education in these posts. Mother nature is counting on us to take the next step (pun intended) to become better for not only her but ourselves and humanity.
The outdoors needs us all to be more aware of our LNT and online practices. So, let’s work to be better.