Consequences of Posting Trip Reports

Hey everyone – A coworker published this article in the International Journal of Wilderness and as a reader of online forums and a friend and wife of some of the most prolific forum post-ers, I thought this might be interesting to share. This is the first time I’ve heard of some of the negative consequences of posting detailed trip reports for off-trail areas. I personally found the author’s concerns rather compelling and I’d be interested in hearing people’s thoughts/reflections on this. Obviously the author’s concerns don’t apply to the rivers themselves but they certainly apply to the hiking portions of our trips.
Adrienne Lindholm

Joe’s piece is an interesting academic excercise of wishing the genie back into the bottle. Wiggle your nose like Tabitha and, shazam, the technology goes away.

But in real life the technology won’t be going away, and will likely get more sophisticated in the coming years. We’ll look back ten years from now and pine for the good old bad old days. That said, I am not a proponent of GPS units and greatly prefer the challenges of map interpretation, preferably on the 1:250,000 scale, which is only a step over dead reckoning. There is also an art of writing route descriptions that leave plenty of room for self-discovery (and self-loss).

Personally I think this article by Van Horn diverts attention away from the far larger issues that affect our wildlands and wilderness areas. The impacts associated with packrafters and cross-country mountain travelers are miniscule compared to the impacts of ATV’s, snowmachines, helicopters, and fixed wing aircraft. And the threats to places like the National Petroleum Reserve, the Arctic Refuge, and the Pebble-zone of Southwest Alaska render this discussion truly trivial.

The real root problems are too many people in the world and not enough wild places. If we really care about wilderness and wild places that is where we should focus our attention.

Pardon the cross-post if you’ve already read it…

Van Horn’s article is interesting but he seems to have neglected to point out that usage of our parks has declined in recent years. His claim of instantaneous sharing leading to “increased visitor use in remote trailless areas” doesn’t appear to fit with the data that shows park use has dropped by as much as 11% and studies have shown that backcountry camping is down by as much as 25%. In fact a study published in 2006 pretty much comes to the exact opposite conclusion saying that electronic media is a cause for “shift in recreation choices with broader implications for the value placed on biodiversity conservation and environmentally responsible behavior.”

I firmly believe that we are at a tipping point when it comes to conservation in this country. Park usage is dropping, public opinion polls are shifting away from conservation and towards development of our natural resources. Funding for parks is drying up and privatization continues to creep into many areas of the USFS and NPS. In considering this when one looks at the broad implications of sharing photos and stories then increased visitor usage should be the least of worries. Is it really a bad thing if an internet post lead more people to do the Hulahula River? In the greater scheme of things a well used campsite on the lower stretch Hulahula River is a minimal footprint when compared to an oil platform. If my photos encourage people to go to places they normally wouldn’t go and to experience wilderness, then I think that’s a good thing.

The question land managers should be asking is “what will happen to our public lands if people stop using them”?

Brad and wfinley have it right, in my opinion.

First, use of wildlands does seem to be falling in some measure; second route-finding off-trail is still a skill, even with a GPS; and finally, maybe, at least in Alaska, posting off-trail routes is very unlikely to lead to overuse.

I mean, look at Nabesna to McCarthy: I first did it in 1986 and last did it in 2008. The changes I’ve noticed, despite many people knowing about the route and having seen numerous on-line trip descriptions, were the results of climate change (more shrubs, less glacial ice), Park Service developments in Chisana and Glacier Creek, and an increase in ATV traffic around Chisana, White River, and McCarthy.

This article seems to be another example of, as Brad put it, academic outdoor management, a manager thinking about the danger of a potential scratch on the right leg when the the real problem is a very real, bleeding femoral artery on the left.

Mr. Van Horn works in Denali NP where we have a perfect example of Roman’s turn of phrase about misplaced priorities. The Sanctuary is one of the classic packraft routes and has been amply described in this forum. Undoubtedly the use of this route has increased in recent years, to the point where it is conceivable, though unlikely, that there is a packraft party passing along the route every day. But every single day, without fail, there are dozens of low-flying helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft in and around Windy Pass, the upper Sanctuary valley, and Refuge valley. If Mr. Van Horn is concerned about preserving wilderness values, he should focus his efforts on stopping this airborne assault on Denali wilderness.

nobody can stop my addiction to posting trip reports. nobody!
what would I do with my camera? with my spare time?