2022 – Sharing and Caring For Public Lands

Many of us are quite spoiled. We’ve been lucky enough to experience our backyard wilderness areas devoid of crowds and we like it that way. I love having alpine lakes to myself and frequently say MINE, MINE, MINE!

The truth of course is that these are public lands, to be protected, preserved and shared.

Information Tug of War

I’ve watched the pendulum swing. Digital imaging and the internet, with it’s social media options, invited sharing. Conflicts were inevitable between those sharing and those determined to limit awareness of their special areas. I personally walk the tightrope. I share via my blog posts and yet cringe when I see a favorite backyard trail the focus of an article in an outdoor magazine, included in a top ten favorites list, or shared by an influencer on social media.

Stewardship and Gatekeeping

While public lands agencies have been tasked with leadership and oversight, we all play a role. Some individuals have assigned themselves Gatekeeper, and that’s what prompted this article.

What is gatekeeping? This Urban Dictionary definition seems fitting. “When someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to something.”

These are some examples I’ve witnessed.

  • The Silent Protestors: Individuals who discontinue sharing on public forums.
  • The Obscurers: Individuals who post teaser information but skip the details.
  • The Misleaders: Individuals who steer others toward areas deemed Sacrificial Lambs and away from Sacred Cows.
  • The Confronters: Individuals who are on a personal mission to change the trajectory of social media based decisions.

A common theme by the confronters is the definition of research, specifically regarding general questions asked about trail recommendations. There seems to be a consensus among this group that a question on social media is not the same as asking at a visitor center. While I agree it’s not the most effective method, for many it’s a place to begin research. It’s not a one and done.

Turning the Tide

How can we be better stewards? How can we protect and preserve the lands we love? How can we positively contribute to social media queries?

My blog posts have evolved with more emphasis on trail conditions and overall experiences rather than just pretty pictures. In online communities, I try to provide resource links and encourage more detailed questions. For example when someone asks for a recommendation, it can be followed up with questions such as those that might be asked by someone at a visitor center:

  • When are you planning to go?
  • Will you be bringing children or dogs?
  • What type of mileage, terrain, elevation gain, etc. do you desire?
  • Are you looking for views, lakes, fishing, birding, peak bagging, etc.?
  • Do you have navigation skills or prefer a well-marked trail?

Funding to staff visitor centers and maintain trails is never sufficient especially with the growing demands, which have escalated with high utilization and degraded forest conditions from fire and pest damage. Their websites are woefully inadequate and frequently those answering the phones haven’t hiked the trails. We can share this burden by responsibly educating those less familiar with an area.

No Easy Answers

The easiest solution seems to be quota permits. While most of us don’t like this option, it’s becoming standard practice. Additional fees have been implemented in high-use areas, which are intended to help fund maintenance. Both understandably complicate access and frustrate long-time spontaneous users. Local and regional users would love to have special privilege access, which leads us back to the MINE, MINE, MINE attitude.

There are positives to a larger population learning to love public lands. We need voters to protect and fund these lands. With the bulk of these lands in more rural areas west of the Continental Divide, the large population centers determine the fate of our trails.

We should all be wearing the stewardship hat, “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” I think that the Washington Trails Association has provided a model other areas should consider adopting. “Washington Trails Association mobilizes hikers and everyone who loves the outdoors to explore, steward and champion trails and public lands.” They make it easy to find trails, learn about trail conditions and experiences, report on same while encouraging volunteerism and activism. This solution is proof you don’t have to wait for a public agency to intervene. It also removes thoughts of gatekeeping with transparency and a well-designed website.

Your Turn!

What are your experiences?

Have you made changes in your social media relationships?

What do you see for the future?

More representative of my types of posts on social media. BYOT (Bring Your Own Tools)!

6 thoughts on “2022 – Sharing and Caring For Public Lands

  1. Yes some areas get too many of the same crowds taking the same selfies to post on social media. I had the delightful experience, in our pandemic years, of looking for and finding places where you could drive around in scenic places in California for three days and not see anyone else. Just the wild animals and great landscapes. There is a valuable role in all media for spreading uses into the hinterlands rather than everyone blocking my view of Burney Falls with tripods set up in the narrow slot for visitor views. Managers also need to know that the wild lands are still important to the visiting or appreciative public, even at obscure wildlife refuges and abandoned dam sites.

    • Thank you for your thoughts! You are exactly right. There’s a non-profit group in Oregon that was formed to bring back old trails to help disperse the crowds. Our public land acreage is huge but only a small percentage is accessible.

  2. Getting people to spread out – rather than all try to visit the same social media approved places – would be one way to avoid quotas. But spreading out seems to require more effort than most are willing to supply – plus a little more risk/uncertainty too. We have some very popular hiking areas here in Southwest Oregon – Grizzly Peak, the Table Rocks, along the PCT, etc. – but a great many more where I have only encountered a few or no other hikers. Many of the hikes in the back of Sullivan’s guide books would qualify as uncrowded alternatives to selfie world. I was also thinking that quotas may become necessary to minimize impacts on the resource simply because there are more people out and about these days. But the pandemic-induced bump in hikers might be waning(?).

    • It’s a bit of a leap to enlighten those who’ve cut their teeth on trails supported by the Guthook/FarOut app for the PCT and similar trails, where they are told where to expect water and campsites, thus not needing to know how to read a map. Others who depend on AllTrails or comments on FB, IG or YT aren’t familiar with trial and error experiences or sleuthing out options on maps or via guidebooks or websites. It’ll be interesting to see if user numbers decrease on popular trails this summer with less covid restrictions and higher gas prices. Regardless unless non-profit groups and volunteers step up to restore and maintain trails, more users will continue to be funneled onto the few primary trails.

      I appreciate your blogging style as it shows options beyond those highlighted on popular resources. You show the benefits of traveling areas just out of curiosity and exploration without the need of a destination. Thank you for continuing to make your blog available as a resource!

  3. I’m more upfront about places I go on my blog than I am on social media. I tend to write more detailed information about trails that can be easily found on a map at a state park than I would write about anything I found off the beaten path because those areas are usually where sensitive species are located. I don’t mind sharing those areas with people that seem trustworthy but I wouldn’t tell some rando who happened to comment on a post or blog. And for every major area we see getting so much attention there are a million other little out of the way places that see very little foot traffic. The south is ripe with them. I look for those areas!

    • 100% agree and I’m much the same. In many areas the problem with the million other places is difficult access either due to road and/or trail conditions, burns, floods, etc. It’s nearly impossible to bushwhack in many places. Thanks for your feedback.

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