National Parks face a new threat: Instagrammers

Park+goers+have+scratched+various+names+and+insignias+into+ancient+petroglyphs%2C+vandalizing+Valley+of+Fire+State+Park.+

Ravindra Sudhindra

Park goers have scratched various names and insignias into ancient petroglyphs, vandalizing Valley of Fire State Park.

Anagha Sudhindra, Copy Editor

From great arches and swampy grasslands to rolling sand dunes, the United States National Parks represent a common care and appreciation for the Earth’s beauty. Stunning views and pristine landscapes are just a glimpse of what this country has to offer. 

However, an unforeseen threat has been leaving a trail of debris and destruction as it tramples through these previously untouched parks: Instagrammers. 

Instagram is a photo sharing platform connotated with a zealous trend-following culture. Anything posted on the platform has a likelihood of going viral, thereby inciting a mass rush to recreate the picture or join the trend.

A simple aesthetic picture of a gorgeous scene might kick start a “herding-effect,” causing hundreds of influencers to crowd the location for their own variation of the picture. It is almost expected that any pristine location shared on the platform will soon degrade as masses of people with no true sensitivity for the environment shuffle through just for their picturesque shot. This also ruins the experience of avid nature enthusiasts truly looking to explore the park in a respectful manner. 

“National Parks are meant to be escapes from social media and the internet. You are meant to admire your surroundings,” stated nature enthusiast Bea Sears. “Of course it is always fun to take photos, but sometimes people take it too far, creating crowds in front of scenic views and damaging the wildlife by straying off trail.” 

Sears worries for parks as they are overrun by influencers with no true regard for natural preservation. 

For example, the environmental damage done on the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, a tiny park in the grasslands of the Mojave Desert, has been directly linked to an Instagram-obsessed frenzy of visitors to the park. The Antelope Valley reserve features vibrant colors of the annual spring-time poppy bloom – an Instagrammer’s gold mine for content creation. 

Influencers venture off paths into flower fields just for that perfect click. They bed in the flowers, trampling the blooms and compacting the arid desert soil essential for the poppies’ survival. Some pick the flowers, holding them outstretched to the camera for a carefree natural look; the result is a widespread destruction of the poppy ecosystem. 

Junior Aarya Joshi has experienced this disrespect towards national parks first-hand. Joshi recently visited Antelope Canyon, a scenic overlook located on sacred Navajo land. With permission from the Navajo people, she was able to tour the beautiful landscape – but she was met with a disappointing show of disdain for the land. 

“While on the tour, various guides spoke of their horrifying experiences of disrespect,” she shared, “People would urinate in the canyon, trash it, draw on the walls and so much more. Many would only come for the picture of the canyon instead of taking the time to go on tours and support the Navajo people.” 

Joshi commented, “People forget that we do not own the land and must respect it.”  

This phenomenon of disregard is truly disheartening for nature enthusiasts as stunning exhibitions of natural beauty are becoming overcrowded and spoiled.

Countless national parks have fallen victim to the Instagram related craze. Just north of Moab, Utah, Arches National Park, home of gorgeous red-hued and dark sienna rock formations, had to close its gates 120 times just last summer due to the extreme crowding. Parking lots and roadways were so full, emergency vehicles could not clear a way. Zion National Park, famous for gorgeous hikes and canyoneering, had wait times of over four hours just to enter the park. In the crowd’s wake was graffiti, trash and reckless behavior. 

The establishment of National Parks in the early late 1800s to early 1900s was an effort to preserve nature and pay homage to the land that came before man. But as the public tramples through this land with no regards towards preservation, the entire purpose of the National Park is lost. 

To exacerbate matters of cleanliness in parks, insufficient staff are unable to keep up with the extreme crowds. Park rangers are strapped for resources as they attempt to manage the throngs of people flowing in and out of their parks. Crowd control has become an all time severity with hundreds of influencers and photo-takers eagerly entering parks as they leave their homes after two years of isolation. 

An interesting attempt to coralle these influencers has been put into place: selfie stands. By reserving certain scenic areas of the park for the photo-takers, park rangers can effectively manage the crowd while also opening the rest of the park for enthusiastic hikers to traverse. 

But national park-goers must come to the hard truth: there just might not be enough room in America’s favorite natural getaways for everyone who wants to go. And visitors must be kept to harsh standards in order to preserve the beauty and marvel of these parks.

Joshi stated in concord, “As national parks become more popular, one can only hope that platforms such as Instagram work to mitigate this behavior of insensitivity towards land. Hopefully we as a society can understand the importance of nature and our parks.”