Leave No Trace

I have come to realize that my heavy tagging on Flickr in early years has brought a lot more people to places I love. This can be good or bad depending on how they behave!

There are now numerous hiking guides and photos on the Internet and detailed maps for most any place you want to explore. People are very influenced by a photo. Many see a picture that shows them exactly where some beautiful spot is, and it goes on their bucket list.

I have seen a huge increase in the number of people coming to my little spot on Trout Lake which was always kind of a local place. I know that I have a lot to do with that because I always tagged everything on Flickr for years, and people tell me that’s why they’re there. There’s good and bad to this, tourism is important to many areas economically but some locations can’t handle the extra traffic, and can actually be damaged.

Spirit falls used to be another local treasure, made popular first by kayakers going over the falls, and now tons of photographers from far away have it on their bucket list. It’s a fragile little location, and a very dangerous unofficial non-trail.

Someone pointed out to me that on the Internet you can find pictures and Maps for all these places, not to mention hiking guides people have written with detailed information. Some of the hiking guides were created with no respect for private property, leading to problems in areas like Spirit Falls on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. The main access getting used down the boulder field was on private property and the owners finally cut off access so a new way in had to be found. Even the parking was on the private land, so burming and landscaping changes by the owners took that away. Now there’s not much more than a wide spot in the road now to park.

There is no real trail to Spirit Falls, just some boot tracks down a very steep dangerous slope. There are rattlesnakes and poison oak and rolling boulders to contend with, and the special little glen that contains spirit falls has a lot of moss that is damaged by heavy traffic.

It is sad to realize that our drive to get out in nature can also lead to the destruction of what we love. It’s one thing if the place has been developed to handle the extra visitors. It’s different if it’s a little known place that mostly just locals know about, and suddenly it gets flooded by people coming to get their picture and leaving again. Hopefully they at least interact with local businesses and help the economy while they’re there! In my opinion that is another responsibility of explorers in new territory. Be considerate of the locals who have in some situations created access to the special spots, and who have in many cases been taking care of them for years.

What I see is that better education about these facts is important. As photographers, I think we have a responsibility to pay attention to where we go and how we walk in fragile locations, as well as how we share locations and interact with new communities. Perhaps some places should be left undefined on social media.

Being responsible can be tricky though, since cell phones tend to automatically record GPS information, and make it so easy to snap a picture and upload it without even thinking. We get so excited to share what we found, but do we take time to consider the effect on fragile locations?

I know some landscape photographers that are switching focus because they are recognizing the impact they are having on those special spots, bringing other people there in droves.

The Internet has opened up the world. There’s no going back. Educating people about treading lightly on the land and respecting local communities and private property need to go hand in hand with the new easy availability of information.

I promote “Leave no Trace” both physical as well as virtual data ie: GPS data embedded in photos on the internet. Most people today take pictures with their phone and upload them to social media, often unaware that the photo includes GPS data automatically unless you tell your phone not to allow location info on photos.

Step back and look at the big picture. Look at the changes in your own life time in the wild zones you might love to visit. Places I went as a child that were wild and fragile have been irrevocably damaged after becoming well known. Our actions in how we share these things can have a lasting impact on the places we love.

Many photographers joke about all the people that come after them and try to use the same tripod holes. I like to encourage people to explore for themselves, find their own special spots, create their own tripod holes, and consider turning off their GPS on Photos. This can be done under settings/ location in most phones and cameras.

Leave no virtual trace to hidden, unique, fragile, and/or undeveloped locations. Once this information is out there on the Internet it can’t be taken back.

I would love any thoughts and discussion on the subject, please do share and comments your thoughts.

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