Last spring, I shared a photo of Mason lying in the flowers at Rowena Crest on social media. A few hours later, someone blasted me because they felt I was irresponsible to let Mason lie on the path in a field of wildflowers. I’ll admit, it was definitely not adhering to Leave No Trace ethics. Honestly, I just couldn’t help but get the shot because it was so dang cute! In the image, I also shared our location and said it was a not-to-be-missed hike.
My first reaction to the post was an eye roll toward those who blasted me. I mean, come on, it was a well-traveled wildflower spot and there were thousands of flowers. What was one little toddler lying down going to do to that spot, anyway?
Within a few days, I saw my Facebook feed fill up with friends heading out to Rowena Crest. They took similar shots and thanked me for the tip. While I’m not sure if we were super harmful on that spot, I think we made a visible human impact. I can now see how one picture can inspire hundreds, and even thousands, to go to a place. And that’s where the true impact becomes detrimental to nature.
To share or not to share
As I thought more about my responsibility in getting people out there, I also noticed others talking about it online. In addition, there were articles on this topic in well-respected outdoors publications, like Outside this spring and even further back in online publications like The Outbound.
So the ethical question: Is sharing beautiful outdoors spaces on social media destroying those hard-to-reach places?
To some degree, it’s a contributing factor. Are groups like Hike it Baby, which helps get more people outside, also contributing to this? Possibly, but it depends on the messaging we share and the guidance and principles we instill in our community before we share places.
I can make an impact
As founder of Hike it Baby, I have the opportunity to impact how families utilize and treat parks and open spaces. I can see how, in our hyper share-everything world, my one image can accidentally harm nature, even if that’s not my intention.
I like to think that while I may share, or overshare, my outdoors life and encourage hundreds of people to follow in my family’s footsteps and get out there, I also know that making the outdoors more accessible for all comes with a price. And sometimes that price means the less aware, less prepared people venture out there thanks to our posts.
On September 2, 2017, some teenagers playing with fireworks in the Columbia Gorge set off a massive fire. It trapped 150 hikers overnight, and resulted in 49,000 burned acres by the time the fire was out. My guess is that it was not these kids’ intention when they carelessly tossed fireworks into the Gorge and filmed it, undoubtedly for their social media feeds.
For those of us with younger children, we have an opportunity to teach respect before they become teenagers. This is not to say these teens didn’t have wonderful parents who took them out hiking regularly. But one has to wonder how much time they spent in the woods as little ones, learning how humans impact the woods with our presence.
I can make a commitment
With 2018 fast approaching, I want to personally up my commitment to share open spaces and encourage all to get out there. But I also want to work harder to offer more guidance. I encourage deep thought in everyone to consider what is left behind after your hike. This isn’t just the forgotten trash, the dropped binky or the squished flowers, but it’s also what you add to the message when you share this adventure in your daily life on your social media and beyond.
I have a book coming out in May 2018 called Hike it Baby: 100 Awesome Adventures with Toddlers and Babies. The goal of this book is to help families get out more into nature. But unlike most guidebooks, we don’t look for the farthest places. It offers more accessible spaces and a first step into the outdoors so we can teach our young to respect nature from their earliest days. We hope this book will help everyone stop and think about what we teach our children about nature on a daily basis. We share resources to help us be more thoughtful as we venture out there.
In a recent study conducted by a handful of researchers for “The Nature of Americans National Report: Disconnection and Recommendations,” it was determined that Americans are becoming disconnected with nature. But all is not lost. Finding ways to reconnect children and those who have less access, and the younger the better, means there will be more protection and respect for nature as people grow up.
According to the study, “Connecting Americans and nature must be a vibrant, ongoing effort supported by all members of the public. The state of the natural world and our place within it cannot afford for us to act slowly. We must act now to ensure that present and future generations are connected with nature.”
I can encourage respect for nature
So while it’s not necessarily a bad thing that we Instagam every beautiful moment because it connects others to nature and inspires them to get out, it’s good to stop and think first. Before you post, ask, “Am I posting responsibly and not necessarily broadcasting every nook and cranny in nature with GPS coordinates?” Go ahead and share those space. But consider regular reminders and support networks to encourage people to get out there with respect.
This is our moment to change the world and help others touch nature. Nature heals and is always there for you. It connects people better to one another. Nature teaches our children valuable lessons. She helps us all connect with ourselves better. Go ahead and share her beauty. But remember to do it wisely and with instructions so people just learning to connect with her do it well from the start. It all starts with you and that picture you post of your child lying in a field of wildflowers.
“I feel like, as photographers, we have a bigger responsibility to ensure that we don’t meadow stomp then share and be aware of the environment around us. It’s easy to be lured by mountain scapes and to run through wild flowers because of what we see on IG and Facebook. It’s also easy for others to see it and not think of the consequences they have to the land, but rather, because someone else has done it, so surely one more couldn’t hurt. I feel like the power of social media will oftentimes be more about the likes rather than the experience, thus creating more traffic on our favorite trails and people not adhering to Leave No Trace and accidentally creating patches and new small paths that lead astray for just a photo.
“I do a lot of research, alone and with the kids, to find desolate areas and trails that not many have wandered. But I also try to make sure that my kids adhere as much as they can to the LNT philosophy. There are times when they stray, or forget that their footprints and their new paths can hurt their favorite landscapes. Harrison even cried once because he didn’t stay on the trail and stepped on a small plant. He was absolutely devastated because I reminded him of how big we are. It’s definitely something I hope others will do, especially as the trails get busier and getting outside starts to mean more to those around us.” —Hike it Baby Photographer Ashley Scheider
“I understand both sides and am a HUGE advocate of leave no trace. It’s a balancing act though between enjoying the outdoors and fostering a love for it with the kiddos with leave no trace. For example, I allow Pax to choose a leaf on the trail to carry and sometimes bring home. I’m also the person who will clean up others’ trash on the trail. Educate, educate, educate!!! A few irresponsible people on the trails could ruin them for everyone, but being personally and communally invested in our trails and beautiful places is so important.” —Hike it Baby Member and Photographer Becca Harrison