Is geotagging ruining nature and the outdoor experience?

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By Dave Helgeson
Due to the pandemic, more people than ever are heading outdoors to hike, camp and/or escape urban craziness. Thanks to geotagging, it is also easier than ever to find that secret place to get away. In this entry we will look at what geotagging is and if geotagging it ruining nature.

What is geotagging?

Caliper.com lists the following definition: “Geotagging refers to the attaching of geographic coordinate information to images, video, and other media recorded by smartphones or GPS-enabled electronic devices.”

Is geotagging ruining nature?

Many believe geotagging is ruining nature, as it allows people to easily find the location of those “secret” places shown on photos posted by others via Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms. “Influencers” often have a large number of social media followers who inevitably (“sadly,” in my opinion) look up to them in social media to guide them with their decision-making, including where they should go and what they should see. This can send thousands of people to a location that typically had only been visited by fewer than a hundred in the past. Even geotagged photos posted by you and me can increase visitation to our favorite places.

Overrun camping area gets trashed!

While location tagging your campsite may seem harmless, it can cause a lot more damage than you might think. Even if you only have 300 followers, a geotag still shows up for everyone, and if you also use hashtags and a large account shares your photo, it can potentially reach millions of people.” —Elisabeth Brentano

Camper Elisabeth Brentano also posts on her blog, “When we share a photo on social media, we can’t monitor who it reaches, and a lack of knowledge (or worse yet, a blatant disregard for the rules), can ruin some of our favorite campsites, trails and parks.” Is geotagging ruining nature? Based on the balance of Elisabeth’s blog entry, she would say, yes!

RVers are negatively affected also

It is not just backpackers and hikers that are experiencing overuse of areas that have been posted or geotagged online. Amanda from Watsons Wander recently blogged concerning returning to a favorite camping spot after an extended absence. “Fast forward seven years from our first visit and oh man have things changed. The meadow area where we first stayed now has a road at the top where RVs park in a line, the lower meadow (which was inaccessible to RVs in both 2013 & 2014) has another road that RVs park along, and the area across the street where we stayed in 2014 has expanded tenfold.” Does Amanda think geotagging is ruining nature? Read the balance of the blog post to find out.

As Elisabeth pointed out in her blog, “lack of knowledge and a blatant disregard for the rules” has become all too common as people are lured to the outdoors in part by enticing geotagged photos. RVTravel.com recently published a blog post written by Suzanne Anthony about how the coordinates found online for an idyllic place to camp led to the area being overrun and trashed by those that weren’t taught any better and/or have no respect for the rules or nature. Are online posts and geotagging ruining nature? Many would say “yes” based on this entry.

Sadly, there is also a toll on human life as inexperienced people with “lack of knowledge” are lured into nature by alluring photos never to return as they lacked the basic resources and safety knowledge including the Ten Essentials. Search and Rescue groups across the country are reporting a significant increase in calls this year and sadly some end up as recoveries or worse yet some haven’t been found, their bodies left to scavengers and the elements. How would they answer if asked, “Is geotagging ruining nature?” Unfortunately, we will never know!

The author keeps the coordinates to this secret place private. Search and Rescue calls to this remote location can cost $25K or more.

What to do about it?

While I suspect few readers of RVTravel.com are guilty of trashing camping areas or hiking trails, there are some things you can do to help:

  • Teach others to respect the rules, the land and fellow users. Start with your children and grandchildren, then move on to friends and spread the word on social media.
  • Turn off the geotagging feature on your iPhone and other devices to avoid being part of the problem. Here is a short YouTube video on how to turn on/off GPS Geotagging on your iPhone and iPad.
  • Avoid listing the exact location (via description or coordinates) when you post pictures of your secret places online. When asked by trusted friends, you may disclose the location at your discretion.
  • Suggest friends and family not geotag favorite locations. This includes secret campsites, pristine natural areas, your favorite uncrowded restaurant, or where you might have come across a large herd of elk (poachers would love to know).
  • When you view a social media photo of someone abusing the rules either willfully or by “lack of knowledge,” gently point out their error. Example, if someone posts a picture of a campfire where campfires aren’t allowed, you could post a comment such as this: “Greetings, just a note to point out campfires aren’t allowed in that area. You probably missed seeing the signs or rules online. I would hate for you to get a ticket or encourage others to break the rules. It would be great if you removed this image from this site.” If it is a flagrant violation, just forward the image to law enforcement.
  • Practice “Pack it in, Pack it out” and clean up an area trashed by someone less thoughtful.

    Author picks up garbage left by less thoughtful campers. Sadly, dumpsters are located just 100 feet away.

Is geotagging ruining nature? If you are still undecided, read this article from The New York Times and let me know your thoughts using the comment box below.

##RVT971

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Rory R
1 month ago

It’s not so much the Geotagging that is ruining nature but the “camper” that go to these places and leave behind their trash, etc. There is more than one way to find a “secret” spot. We as rv’ers need to leave a spot cleaner then it was when we got there or many of these areas will be closed to “camping” before long. Then what?

Retired Firefighter Tom
1 month ago

A year or two ago in early spring I remember seeing a news photo of a hillside east of Los Angeles [I think] that had a huge number of beautiful wildflowers. Weather conditions had combined to produce a beautiful hillside. It probably was also on the local TV news. The next day thousands of people swarmed the hill, trampling many of the flowers so they could get a photo of themselves surrounded by the flowers. Police had to close off the area due to severe congestion. Unfortunately the damage was done and the wildflowers were trampled. People today think only of themselves and don’t give a darn what they do, spoiling it for everyone else.

Joe
1 month ago

It’s a long stretch here to blame geotagging for all the bad behavior cited. By that standard, you would have to eliminate travel books, National Park Guides, and internet websites that allow people to discover places.

Admin
Chuck Woodbury (@chuck)
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe

Joe, it used to be that ruining a place by publicizing it was pretty much done by media exposure. But now everyone is “media” who has a social media presence. As a travel writer who has written for periodicals with hundreds of thousands of readers, even a million or more, I was aware of spoiling a place by writing about it years ago. But now, it’s not just media that has the ability to publicize a place to the point of where it’s character is changed.

Wanderin' Willy
1 month ago

The problem is not too many specifically stupid people, it’s too many people in general. In my lifetime the population of the U.S. has grown by 2.5 times. When I was a teenager in Oregon my father and I could go almost anywhere near the beach, mountains, or desert and find an isolated place to camp either in an established public primative (no hookups) campground or just boondocking in a handy pulloff near the road. I remember one place in particular that was by a lake in the mountains several miles in at the end of two-track forest road in an “improved” Forest Service campground. The “improvements” were one hole-in-the-ground outhouse and a pitcher pump with a priming bucket beside it. Last time I saw that place, several years ago, it had a two lane paved road into a lodge with dining room, a large parking lot, a boat ramp, and boat rentals.

Greg Giese
1 month ago

The dumpster picture can be viewed in other ways. I think that a lot of responsible people took their trash to a dumpster and a delerict government worker didn’t empty it. That mess didn’t happen in a day!

KellyR
1 month ago

It all started with the invention of TV, then McDonalds. “Socal Media, whatever that is, seems to have turned into. ‘Let’s all be independent and follow the herd.’

Cheri Miller
1 month ago

This a great and timely article! Thanks especially for the “What you can do about it”. We’ve seen some lovely local areas on the coast literally explode from one year to the next with over use – roadside campers that don’t know better than to build fire rings and then leave them in turnouts, campers blocking the narrow, winding roads, and litter and sewage left behind in what used to be pristine areas. We could sure use some nature etiquette campaigns in the schools and on media platforms. I remember how successful Smoky the Bear and the “Don’t Litter” campaigns were back in the day. In the meantime, we’re heartened to see the widespread online dialogues like this one that help create a new set of awareness and ethics in the general public. Patience is our motto as we evolve to build social media presence about nature etiquette.

Philip Sponable
1 month ago

1960 = 3.2B / 2020 = 7.8B … ADD more leisure time, money, foreign tourists, accessibility and inexpensive recreational equipment and you have this worldwide phenomenom. Social Media is but a small part of the equation.

Curt Rigney
1 month ago

In the back of my mind I’ve always wondered about this. Thanks for sharing this Chuck.

Jeff Schwartz
1 month ago

Thank you for sharing this with us. I will turn off the Geotagging on my phone immediately.
What a shame some people have to act like this. Ever since I was a kid camping in the scouts it was always and still is “pack it in, Pack it out”
Thank you for all you do for all of us out here.

Gordy
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff Schwartz

Does anyone know if it would work to turn it off for pictures and back on for locating if you were lost. I do not know a lot about phones in general.

dawn ellen miller
1 month ago
Reply to  Gordy

You can leave on location services in general and turn off geo tagging for photos. For years now I have never geotagged my photos. Never felt the need to add that layer of information to where I have been.

Joe
1 month ago

If one fully buys into this concept that sharing information about the places you love is ruining the outdoor experience, then by extension it should be accepted that articles of any kind promoting the joys of RVing will have the same effect. Too extreme you say? Then it’s ok to get people revved up to go RVing but not cool to share where to go and really enjoy it? Ok to share “known” places but not the “special” places?
The article promotes a message that if you find something nice, keep it to yourself. I wonder where the author or others would be if those that got them involved in RVing had done that very thing.

Skip
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe

I can imagine maybe and maybe not. But the extent on spread the word of “don’t tell anyone else” probably was not spoken. I don’t tell anyone of my favorite hunting spots and my son knows the reasons why. Favorite camping spots are in that category of if I told you I’d have to do away with you. Your choice. But the big issue is those that can’t respect or be responsible in taking care of what they use. Again back to stiff fines, blacklisted from the use of national parks/BLM lands. I think promoting RVing is great but maybe a course in respect for ALL needs to be required for those whom are camping afield. A fine of not less than $500 to not more than $5000. It seems we have no true consequences. If to stiff good then maybe only those that should be RVing, hiking, backpacking camping afield should all others take to the private RV camp grounds.

Admin
Chuck Woodbury (@chuck)
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe

Good point, Joe, but there is a lot more to it than what you suggest here.

Steve
1 month ago

My solution to geotagging is simple. Don’t use social media at all . . . ever. We raised our sons before the invention of cell phones, much less social media, and see no real need for it now. If we can’t communicate in person or on the phone or, now, by E-mail instead of snail mail, we don’t communicate. Why should anyone care what some stranger a thousand miles away is having for breakfast, wearing to a party, or standing in front of?

Gordy
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve

I know that license’s are a big pain in the backside, but maybe that is what is needed to keep things cleaner. Example semi drivers need a CDL, what about a Parks and campground license. The only way to get the license is to take a course in care and respect for our National Parks and Campground Courtesy for a small fee that goes to maintaining said parks and campgrounds. In order to make reservations or gain access to National Parks and campgrounds you must have completed the course, or one person in the party has the license and is responsible. It may not cure the problem, but it would go a long way to educating the irresponsible.

Montgomery Bonner
1 month ago

It is just like a favorite fishing spot, you don’t even tell your best friend. A secret “known to one is a secret, tell one person, the whole world knows”. Don’t tell friends/family about your favorite camping spot, keep it to yourself.

Finding here its impossible to get into any place now on my schedule, with appointments and projects we only have small window to get out and back. Everyone else has same small window it appears.

Dalton Mccormick
1 month ago

Fishermen never use to tell where their secret spot was

Egroeg
1 month ago

From this edition: (isn’t this a form of geotagging?) asking for a friend. : )

Reports from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) say the annual western monarch butterfly over-wintering has begun. While many are familiar with encounters with the winged wonders who head into parts of Mexico to escape the cold, the western migration heads to coastal California areas, >>> landing between Mendocino County and south to Baja California <<<. It’s a one-way trip, as come spring, these same butterflies will spend the last days of their lives sucking up flower nectar, finding love with other monarchs, laying eggs on milkweed plants, and giving it all up in death. Their offspring will somehow know what groves to shelter in when they make their own winter migration.

Firefly
1 month ago
Reply to  Egroeg

Greetings, just a note to point out It’s 600 miles from Fort Bragg in Mendocino County to San Diego, which is just north of Baja California. Your friend probably missed seeing the signs.

Da Grn
1 month ago

The problem is to many poorly raised people in the world.Turning off your cell phone will only help you … become a better person…

Gary
1 month ago

I don’t know about Apple products, but on many Android phone cameras, you can leave GPS & location services on. You just go into camera settings and turn off the recording of location info. Some non-phone cameras also record location as well. Just another thing to watch out for.

Parker Newton
1 month ago

So turn off your GEO services or leave the phone at home, but…

Search and Rescue groups…sadly some end up as recoveries or worse yet some haven’t been found, their bodies left to scavengers and the elements.

I think I’ll keep my phone and GEO services/tags, thanks.

We are careful about what we blog/review, don’t push our blog to facebook or insta, and almost never post anything in real time. There will probably be exceptions to this on rare occasions.

It is possible to have the ability to tell the world everything, but choose to be careful about if/when/how you do. I don’t see it worth giving up safety features that help emergency services or maps that guide me from one place to another.

Ran
1 month ago

Sadly we’ve come to this point, but way overdue. Technology has taken over our lives. Another point I’ll add, is to turn off location Services on your iPhone. Only use it when needing to locate something. That feature allows anyone to find you and follow you, which has the pitfalls of someone visiting your home unannounced, while you’re posting how cool it is right now miles away from home!
Thanks Chuck and Dave for these reminders and how-to thoughts……..On how to fix STUPID!…….😎

Irv
1 month ago

There’s a hint of elitism in keeping secret spots. We’re as much of the problem as the other visitors. When spaces get loved to death, capacity limits are the only solution. But managing capacity with lotteries or on a first come basis takes resources.

The problem isn’t new. It occurred with travel guidebooks and then TV. Fifty years ago it was a big issue in a hiking club I joined.