New York Magazine recently published a fascinating article on the apparent phenomenon of "Instagram Hikers." The piece looks into the recent surge in so-called "Instagram Hikers", described by the article as "the sorts of people who see a pretty photo on Instagram and want to go take their own picture in that spot," and the impact they are having on America's national parks.
The wide-ranging impact of Instagram and social media sharing never ceases to fascinate me. Whether it's being used for snarky social commentary, or as a primary source of income for working professionals, the potential power that the image sharing platform offers is almost limitless, but I had never stopped to think about it's potential as a tool for revitalizing interest in our nation's parks.
This article from New York Magazine shows both the positives and negatives of the increased interest in park visitation that has found it's catalyst in social media; pointing out what a huge boost in interest Instagram has offered to these protected spaces.
Instagram has been a huge boon for the National Parks. The filter-heavy photo-sharing social network seems tailor-made to capture perfect vistas, crashing waterfalls, and beautiful wildlife. Many of the parks have extremely successful feeds of their own. Yosemite has over 260,000 followers. Yellowstone has over 90,000. And the Department of the Interior has over 845,000, orders of magnitude more than any other government bureau. (The Department of Labor, its Instagram strategy in disarray, has a little more than 2,000.)
In the days since the NY Mag article was written, Yellowstone's Instagram feed has grown to over 100,000 followers and, if you take a look at it's profile, you'll see why.
National Geographic has shown the way to generate massive followings on Instagram: create killer content, share it often. By emulating this simply (and theoretically obvious) strategy, America's national parks have seen a spike in both online and in-person interaction over the last several years. But that increase has not come without it's downsides.
Kupper told me about a particular waterfall in the Delaware Water Gap that suddenly took off in popularity among, she says, “teens, or young people” last year. “It was extremely popular so it brought all these other problems — there was trash, and overuse, and vegetation being trampled,” she says. The park had to station rangers nearby to try to lessen the flood, while, you know, not actually trying to discourage people from enjoying the parks. “Some of the rangers,” says Kupper, “had to say, yes, this is beautiful, but there are 20 other beautiful spots like this! Find your own beautiful spot!”
The article also calls back to the Casey Nocket story from last year as an example of the potential negative impact of "Instagram Hikers." Nocket, in case you don't recall, made a habit of traveling to various parks across the country and vandalizing them with graffiti so that she could post images to her Instagram. This sort of vandalism (the perpetrators like to call it "art") is disturbingly common in what are meant to be borderline sacred spaces across the United States.
So what is the solution? How do you embrace the influx of people who are only there to get likes on their images, while simultaneously educating them on what makes their photo op so special and how to treat it with respect?
“From my perspective, getting people outside is always a good thing,” says Schreiner. “But then there's that challenge of, okay, how do you capture someone who's just there to take a selfie for Instagram? How do you show them what else is special about the parks?” And that appears to be something nobody has really figured out yet, if it even is something that can be figured out. People become fans in different ways; some people only care enough about a particular thing to hear the single, or as Schreiner calls it, “the highlight reel of a place.”
Want to help create some of that killer content for the parks? Don't forget that the Department of Interior is looking for a new Ansel Adams to do just that!