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Instagram Crowds May Be Ruining Nature


The Colorado River wraps around Horseshoe Bend in the in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Page, Ariz. on Feb. 11.

The Colorado River wraps around Horseshoe Bend in the in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Page, Ariz. on Feb. 11.

RHONA WISE, AFP/Getty Images

You scroll through your friend’s Instagram feed and see the most beautiful setting, and think: “I want to go there.” And so you do.

According to travel photographer Brent Knepper, you are part of the problem.

In the online article “Instagram is Loving Nature to Death,” Knepper says that thanks to the photo sharing app, some of the best-kept secrets of the natural world are drawing big crowds and literally altering the landscape.

Knepper tells NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro about some of the idyllic locations that are seemingly being ruined because of exposure on Instagram.


Interview Highlights

On Horseshoe Bend in northern Arizona

Horseshoe Bend is this beautiful spot 7 miles up the Colorado River from the Grand Canyon. It’s in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and the bend is very unique as far as waterway travels down there. It makes a complete 180-degree turn in a canyon 1,000 feet deep.

From the viewing point at the top, you get this amazing view of this horseshoe shape, hence the name. It’s a rugged, remote spot, and it’s a very lovely place as long as you’re willing to share it with a crowd. …

I ran the numbers after doing a little bit of research, and the numbers do check out. On Instagram, Horseshoe Bend’s popularity, in its hashtag or in its geotag, is normally 10 times as popular as anything else in that area.

On why some visitors and construction are the problem

Well, popularity is very important. The outdoor world needs more visitors and more accessibility. The difficulty with managing that side of it is that construction effects can have averse conditions applied to the natural areas, if you start doing different buildings. It’s not that all visitors are a problem, of course; it’s just some places tend to have people who neglect responsibilities of their visitorship.

On other spaces that have changed

In my article that I wrote for The Outline, I illustrate two other places that have also changed as a result of overwhelming popularity, specifically on Instagram. A smaller one, in Colorado, is Conundrum Hot Springs. After it became a spot to easily find on social media, the amount of visitorship went up really high. And the problem, since this is a very remote location where people hang around for a long time in the hot springs, is that they ran out of places to go to the bathroom. As a result, Conundrum Hot Springs had to be shut down for a little bit, while park rangers were up there with shovels to relieve that issue.

Bathrooms were not built. They literally had to shovel up everyone’s waste and pack it out for them.

On Vance Creek Bridge

Vance Creek Bridge is probably the most famous spot within the Instagram niche. It is the second-tallest bridge in the U.S.; it’s privately owned and is about a two-hour drive outside Seattle.

Its location was revealed in 2012 on Instagram and since then, visitorship has just exploded. The railing company that owns the bridge has tried to slow down the amount of people visiting it by putting up a fence and then excavating the whole area around the bridge before it drops down over 300 feet towards the river. They haven’t been successful with that, and as a result of vandalism, graffiti and a couple of unresolved campfires that caught the bridge on fire — they’re just going to tear it down now.

On why people visit these places

There’s definitely a community aspect of it. There’s nothing wrong with seeing a cool space on the Internet and deciding to go there. It’s just, maybe, don’t start fires there, and clean up your poop.

NPR’s Digital News intern Jose Olivares produced this story for digital.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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