How footprints can leave a larger mark

Have you ever wondered if the landscape and hiking photos you post on social media can affect the nature and the wildlife around you? Have you ever thought that the hike you take can leave behind an echo of a larger footprint in nature?

Words by Alice Asplund
Pictures by Alice Asplund and Daniel Sandland 

Hikes and social media now go hand in hand, and in the last couple of years, it has been popular to spend more time in nature. Why is this? Much because of the pandemic, but also because of apps like Instagram and TikTok, and our need to show others what we spend our spare time on.

We strive for the best pictures of majestic waterfalls, beautiful sunsets, or steep mountaintops.

Since more people now seek these destinations, vulnerable hidden pearls are discovered, then shared on social media. Through Instagram and other apps, we find new destinations and new paths that previously have only been available for the few locals living in the area. We travel far and long to hike these places, lured in by the pictures or videos we see on social media.  But what effect do these expeditions have on the area, and the nature around these hidden pearls?

Small trails that have previously been used by up to 8 people a week now suddenly get over a hundred boots marching their trails. Animal life that was previously nesting, eating and living un-interrupted, suddenly gets a freeway of people roaming the areas, now making noise and litter. Vulnerable vegetation that has previously been able to grow more freely near hiking trails now gets destroyed because of the migration to the area. 

Being in the great outdoors does give us many benefits, but it’s important to consider what the costs are for everyone involved.

We’ve all been there. We scroll through our phone before a weekend or a vacation to check if there are any hikes or mountain tops close by. We have  dreams of ourselves in the crisp mountain air, lush forests, magical waterfalls, colorful skies, and spectacular views. Social media makes the smaller, more hidden parts of the world more available. 

I’ve experienced it myself. I’ve found destinations where I don’t have an exact guide online, but rather attempted to move on my own without really knowing if I’m on the right path.  I’ve ended up on small trails that suddenly stop or fade, and sometimes I’ve been forced to end the trip or backtrack, because there are no signs or apparent route to the top. If there had been any signs from start to finish, it would make the trip easier, but then again, more available for everyone.  Most likely, the majority of people will use a trail that is more marked for safe passage, won’t they?  They probably will, and avoid ending up in nesting grounds or vulnerable fauna that shouldn’t be trampled.

I’ve also experienced rising popularity on trails that usually don’t have that much traffic. A small summit, close to where I grew up, normally only used by the people living close to it. A hike that’s so close it starts as soon you’re out the front door, has become significantly wider and trickier to ascend. The trail has been worn down so new rock emerges, something that reduces accessibility. In the steep terrain I can see clear damage on the trail. It goes further down in the ground and fades longer into the terrain. It’s a beautiful summit, relatively short, so it’s a perfect hike before or after work, which makes it very accessible.

The small parking lot at the start of the trail always felt decently spaced, enough to keep 5-6 cars.  But more recently, I’ve experienced cars parked along the main road before you reach the lot, this makes the road narrow. Should the parking lot expand so more people can keep their cars there? Or would this only increase the popularity more?

The Norwegian government wants to facilitate so more people can be in nature. The reasons might be obvious, people’s mental and physical health. We’re daily encouraged to exercise and move around, to use these exceptional places we have here in Norway.

But what can we do to preserve these vulnerable areas?

This is a problem inside and outside our protected areas. Our nature is precious, but some of our ecosystems are more robust than others, and it’s important to reduce the activity on the more fragile areas, and rather channel tourism to strong and robust areas that can handle the pressure. We also need to be prepared for situations that create growth when it comes to visitors.

In Norway, we have something called “sporløs ferdsel”, the goal is to never leave anything behind in nature that wouldn’t end up there if it was untouched. More focused travel to cultural monuments could help reduce the amount of littering among hikers.

It’s important to ensure our natural values when marketing, also among travel agencies, and not the least, avoid promoting travel to exposed and vulnerable areas in nesting time and breeding season. This also includes not promoting these places on social media. I’m a firm believer of reading up on hikes beforehand, to check the travel destination carefully. This way, you can travel smarter and adapt to the area better. Use well updated hiking-apps when traveling can help not to accidentally venture into areas that should not be disturbed. 

“An encouragement to people hiking in nature should be to read up on what nature reserves are, to increase knowledge on natural values and what rules follow moving in certain areas, could be a good start.

Enforcing vulnerable trails, so people don’t move on them in steep areas, especially when they are wet.

“Freedom to roam” is very powerful here in Norway, but it can also be a threat to nature itself because hiking popularity has increased. To be able to regulate traffic is a very relevant topic now, but it’s probably hard for people to discuss since “Freedom to roam” is so ingrained in Norwegian culture even though this discussion is necessary in some places.

To raise awareness on this subject and for people to take more care of nature, I hope this can be a step in the right direction. That the footprints we leave behind are only the weight we carry with us and not rippled and echoed for a long time after we’re gone.

About Alice

Alice is a Norwegian “outfluencer” whose main goal is to inspire others to get out into nature and try new activities to achieve better self-esteem. She does different activities, though her main sports are splitboarding, hiking with her dog-buddy Aria, climbing and trail biking. 

Follow Alice on Instagram

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