Brent Knepper looks at the way Instagram and Youtube travel creators are affecting the locations they make famous:
Five years ago, Horseshoe Bend saw only a thousand visitors in a year. But this year, over 4,000 people a day have come to see the bend, take selfies at the rim, and dangle their feet over the exposed edge. All this traffic has put a lot of strain on the attraction, or at least its parking lot. So on November 6, construction began on new parking amenities and a platform at the canyon’s edge complete with railing and signs to safely handle all the new visitors. Once complete, the bend will be a perfect tourist attraction with great parking, water, and shade. But the wild beauty that brought so many here in the first place will be gone. Social media gets blamed for everything — but this time, it really is Instagram’s fault.
I’ll admit this is a hard one for me. I love following travel photographers I am certainly guilty of following them out to some of the destinations they’ve popularized. When I found out Instagram’s most famous bridge was just a couple hours away, I went out there and dangled my feet over the edge just like everyone else.
If the complaint is that popular nature enthusiasts on social media are making certain travel destinations grow at a rate parks — and even private property — can’t keep up with, I’m not so sure I care. It seems like, in general, a good problem to have.
On the other hand, to the extent that these folks are ruining the places they’ve come to profit off of, then that’s another story. Inspiring travel while destroying the destination is a tragedy. And I don’t mean ruining the place in the sense that it used to be a local secret and now its overrun with tourists. That’s worth examining but beyond what I’m concerned with here. If the physical grounds are being wrecked by waste and abuse, then we need to re-examine what these accounts are ultimately doing.
It seems to me that Instagrammers are more than up to the task of promoting conservation in their works. Appreciating nature and our ability to explore it implicit in every one of their posts. Maybe a little more John Muir philosophy with their epic shots would go a long way.