Glacier National Park - Instagram posts are helping to destroy the Park ResourcesIf this were not about one of the most important public resources in America, and I were not compelled to help protect it, I would have dismissed it. This piece is controversial. I'm prepared to receive some backlash, even ridicule and name calling. That's okay, but before you make your comments - AND PLEASE MAKE THEM - consider this. This is not about me, I'm the messenger. This is about a current social, and resource managment issue, one that if not dealt with aggressively now, will metastasize to the point where it will gobble up more time and resources than can be deployed by Glacier National Park to deal with them (if it hasn't already). Nip it in the bud now, and there's a chance to put this cat back in the bag. I'm alone in writing this. Whatever errors you find, grammar, spelling, even facts, etc., are mine. Please don't let them get in the way of the message.
Here's the heart of the problem, GNP is pimping the park though it's Instagram feed, and NOT using the powerful social media platform to educate and teach users about the Park. It is also not going after the bad actors. Instead, it's teaching people that it's okay to be reckless, inconsiderate, unsafe, and down right destructive. But why?
Glacier National Park - Historical Homelands, My Home, and a Piece of HeavenFor the past 15 years I've lived in East Glacier Park, Montana - the locals just call it, "East Glacier." Highway 2 and the Burlington Northern railroad splits East Glacier on it's way east across the "Hiline" to Chicago and west around the south end of Glacier National Park to Spokane, Portland and Seattle. East Glacier is also home to the original Glacier Park lodge. East Glacier and the Lodge, are completely within the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and the Park shares it's eastern boarder with the Reservation. The Blackfeet know it as, "The Backbone of the World."
I like to call this the "wild-side." The east side is where visitors wind up because of it's solitude, abundant wildlife, massive views out across the prairie, and access to the most splendid landscapes in all of North American. It's also where the most sensitive environments lie and where too many people, including the Park Service are helping to increase missus of the Park though social media, in particular by posting provocative and suggestive photographs - with no proper explanation - to the popular photography app, Instagram.
|The Instagram account for Glacier National Park - is a lot about "Ranger" Jake and his goal to grow the Park's Instagram account at and cost and at the expense of Glacier's resources.|
I've hiked much of the park, bagged some of the most well known peeks, photographed wildlife from east to west, and north to south. I've boated on or swam in many of its lakes, including far-off ice filled ones, and I've introduced my children to this heavenly land. We're relatively new here, the Blackfeet have known this land for thousands of years. All the more reason to respect and protect it.
Glacier National Park and the National Park ServiceGlacier was created in 1910 by an act of congress, and signed by President Taft. This means Glacier predates the National Park Service (NPS) by 16 years.
2016 marks 100 years since President Woodrow Wilson singed a bill creating the National Park Service (NPS).
"the Service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations…by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."The mission and purpose of the NPS is to protect the park's resources and leave them "unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." Arguably an enormous and lofty goal, particularly in light of the demands now placed on the park's already limited resources. Shrinking budgets, a spoiled political culture, increased demands, over use, higher frequency of damaging weather events all are making it difficult for GNP to maintain, never mind improve, the conditions of the Park. In fairness, the new Going to the Sun Road is a stunning landmark and a monumental accomplishment! Most of the full-time park employees are good people who love the park and do what they can to insure it's protected.
Now, pile on the new, relentless, uninhibited spirit of adventure, the unrelenting drive by the "Gopro-Culture," kids with unlimited resources and motivation to find something exceptional, noticeable and to them, worth doing in life. Couple this energy and a camera or a camera phone, add access to social media, and you have the makings of an ever more rapid increase in resources degradation throughout our national park system.
Sadly, and most alarming, Glacier National Park's social media program is helping lead the way by encouraging misuses though it's Instagram feed by sharing photographs of people doing things that are at least questionable, and in some cases outright against Park policy.
Posting Photos of closed areas but not describing they're closed.
Meanwhile, without describing the closure (helping to educate visitors) and asking people to respect the rules, the comments and kudos, (tapping beer mugs) goes on. I wrote about the Logan Pass area closer in an earlier post "Glacier National Park - Landmark area now closed to the public."
The image below is from the account of the Instagram manager - Lets grab some brews dude, hang a hammock and have some relaxation time . . . Is that promotion of a product? Hmmm . . . Personally, I love the idea, but it's unwise to share this kind of image, particularly if you're the federal employee who's responsible for the GNP Instagram feed. . . I'm sorry, live it up, but what's the point in posting this? It's all about "see how cool I am." No thought of how it might influence other's to do the same on the shore of Bowman Lake. Or, maybe this is the kind of thing that GNP is now promoting? Great product placement too. Thanks Jake.
The public expects more from public employees. I'm not suggesting that if you're a civil servant you should not drink beer, I'm suggesting that as a civil servant you're expected to follow the rules and at a minimum keep this kind of thing between yourself and your friends, not post it for the entire world to see. Take the hammock down and get rid of the advertisement for the beer company and it would be acceptable. Two beers crashing together, a thumbs up followed by the hashtag #glaciernps. For those that dont know, #glaciernps is also the account for Glacier National Park "glaciernps," the nps stands for National Park Service. In just about any other segment of our federal administrative system, this kind of post would not only be unacceptable, it could get you a meeting with the boss. Don't forget, this is the public account of the person who is in charge of GNP's Instagram account.
"Instameets" wrecking park experiences and resourcesBlast out a notice to all your followers that you want as many people as can attend to meet at a specific location, at a specific time. Gather 100's of people on the shore of Lake McDonald and have them share photographs of each other while tagging #glaciernps #glacier #glacierpark, #meetup and so on. Basically create an opportunity for photographing models and props and spreading the word to the world that massive crowds in GNP are welcome. Here's an image posted by GNP from a recent #meetup on the Short of Lake McDonald, on the Parks west side. It was used to drive traffic to it's facebook page. Great advertising, nice photograph, but poor use of the lake shore in Glacier National Park.
No other group could get away with that number of people, in one group in the Park, particularly in such a relatively high use area. I'm sure there were lots of visitors affected by this mob. I have no doubt that this sea of Patagonia and Mountain Hardware was fun for some, but how is this protecting the Park's resources for future generations? To repeat, this is a GNP event marketed via it's social media platforms - can anyone answer, why this even is smart let alone allowed?
You and I would have to have a permit and likely GNP would not permit such an activity on the shore of a lake. But this is advertising for the Park, by the Park, so it must be okay. Imagine the look on the enforcement officers face when he/she arrived to find this mob on the shore of the lake. Talk about "who needs enemies when you have friends like that." It's the job of the NPS to protect the resources for future generations, not help create a destructive and disturbing gathering.
Glacier National Park's Own Instagram AccountBelow is a girl paddling a canoe in Swiftcurrent Lake, not wearing a life jacket. Sure, it was a cool angle, and the photo was well crafted, but why would GNP promote such mindless activities? You might think grizzly bears are the biggest threat to your life while visiting GNP. You'd be wrong. More people die from drowning either by swimming from shore, or falling overboard, and yet, on the Parks own Instagram feed this, and many more photos of boaters without proper personal flotation devises - this one's someone playing roulette with Swiftcurrent Lake.
Anyone who's knows much about Glacier knows that any lake in Glacier can go from calm to three foot waves in a matter of minutes. I guess it was a cool photograph though, right? Think about this, what a a great opportunity to educate the public, instead, "look at me, look at how cool I am," which continues to be the theme of the GNP Instagram account.
In an other case, I commented on a post that showed a logo, and was obviously promoting a brand (considered commercial photography in a national park) and I was told it was not commercial. How could it not be, it's promoting a brand and product. Even if it's not, GNP should use better judgement.
Below are more photos from the Parks Instagram feed. Imagine if every brand or product manufacturer made Glacier National Park its commercial photography studio? You may not have an issue with it, or you may even believe that's okay, but until the NPS changes the regulations, this is commercial photography and it's being promoted by GNP.
Other Offending Instagram Accounts
In the case of the photograph below, "hoxiesox" clearly is stating he's using a model for a photo shoot in Glacier National Park. "Thanks for being my/everyone's model on this trip." This suggests there was multiple photographers and multiple trips . . . Again, using Glacier National Park as a private studio. The regulations clearly state, "models and or props." In this case it's a "model."
Quintontolman seems to be one of the biggest abusers of commercial photography in the park and even adds illegal camping to his bag of tricks. Number one, dispersed camping is not allowed without a permit. Second, erecting a tent outside of an authorized camping area is similarly not allowed. What's the difference between a tent and a hammock, particularly when it's set up in one of the most visited locations in the Park, the Saint Mary Lake, Wild Goose Island overlook. Imagine the response from all the people trying to get a photo of the lake only to find that a few knot-heads were setting up a camp right in plain sight!
Probably the biggest offender of National Park Policy is @alexstrohl a professional photographer one time hired by the State of Montana to capture images for the State's own marketing campaign. Alex has almost 1.5 million followers on Instagram and often he will have well over 50,000 likes and hundreds of comments. He's a real agent! Here are a few of his recent images all taken in Glacier National Park and posted on his Instagram account. Glacier National Park follows his Instagram account.
and other water sources." Sorry Alex, again you're not doing so great at being a good steward of the Park.
More "Hammock-Time" - this will destroy some of the most spectacular locations!
It's a matter of perspective -Our national parks use to be respected. People, including the NPS itself use to take pride in our parks. But, when it comes to Glacier National Park, it seems some have lost their way, if they ever had it. Or, in the very least the operator of the Instagram account for Glacier is ignorant.
Glacier National Park is it's worst enemy when it comes to promoting stupid ideas, and in some cases, illegal activities. Furthermore, GNP is also tagging the creator of the image. What's that all about? GNP is basically operating the account like it's a commercial operation with little thought to how it's influencing the masses. It's almost like someone left the keys to the monster truck on the counter and 13 year old "Jonny" took them and tried to drive the truck over the neighbors Ferrari. Who does that?
Glacier National Park is under attack from the inside and out, and all that GNP wants to do is tell us they can handle the numbers and they have it under-control. Bring more visitors, send out more cool photos. . . The truth is, GNP is literally being consumed and degraded from all angles. The sky - via climate change - the ground - extreme doers, gopro nation, social media, photography, you name it.
As the kids go back to school, the tourism season winds down and Glacier National Park gets some solitude back. This year, will end with the highest numbers of visitors in one season - EVER! If you can imagine this, almost a million in July alone! That's like the entire population of our great state of Montana visiting Glacier, all in the same month!
What's behind the popularity? It's a variation of things.1. National Park 100 Birthday
2. Cheap Gas
3. Instagram and Social Media
4. Combination of younger, mobile well funded kids, and older, retired people who are trying to see the world's treasures before they die.
Those are just guess but I think cheep gas is the main driver coupled with social media and so many people trying to be noticed by the world. It's becoming a real danger to the future of the Park. I can say this much, "we aint seen nothing yet."
The FutureEven with all the people visiting Glacier with cameras of every kind, I expect Glacier Park to experience increased visitation. There are consequences to increased visitation. While there are a lot of good people that visit the park, there are a few that will do anything to get noticed and those people will ruin experiences for many. More places will be closed, and more rules will be crafted and to stop the people who just can not help themselves from doing stupid things.
Things like disbursed camping (erecting tents in the most dramatic locations), nude, and scanty photo shoots in popular-places, hanging hammocks in every cool spot where two trees grow, chasing wildlife with phone cameras, flying every kind of electric propeller driven thing made, and so on. The Park Service generally and Glacier National Park specifically MUST get a handle on this problem before it completely lose control and the Park shuts down from complete miss managment resulting in the description of one of the crown jewels of the planet. The public is watching people, and images have power!
Mark my words, base jumping, wings suits, fat tire bikes, flotillas of floaters, extreme boaters who will cascade down anything that will float their pack rafts, lip ripping bull trout chasers, and additional illegal camping, invasive species, all are on the increase - to say NOTHING of the 90% of the main user's who seldom leave the road.
A few extremists will continue to ruin the Park for the masses. That's the trend and I have no reason to suspect it will change. I do not believe anyone of the people who are doing stupid things in the park will all of a sudden find ethics and decide to reign in their own desires to be discovered and become the next globe trotting national geographic explorer! Never mind that a career in the photography world, for most, is, at best, some free swag, maybe a shirt or some other apparel, a shared post or two and a "we'll help you get your name out there," but few are making any money yet many will help to get formerly visited places, closed. That will be a sad say as it will affect the other segment of the user group that has some level of restraint and common sense.
My Social Media Instagram Policy RecommendationsThe vision and goals for social media must be outlined beginning with the purpose of the park. Nothing shall be posted that does not meet the standard for protecting the resources for future generations. Here's a list of specific rules I would enact.
- GET a POLICY!
- No sharing private, or non government account address's.
- Limit posts to one, or two per day.
- Consider developing a theme that corresponds to a message or park policy - NO random posts
- Only post images of locations where you want people to go.
- Never make a post without a positive park focused message.
- Never post unsafe, or illegal activities - as cool as they may be.
- No posting selfies, or driving social traffic to your personal account, or friends accounts.
- No posting brands, models, or other commercial photography and no promotion of unpermitted services, products or brands.
- No sharing images from abusive accounts - accounts that often post unpermitted and illegal activities in the Park - biking off trail, permitted camping, damaging resources, illegal fires, no hammock photos outside permitted camping areas, or camping outside of designated camping areas.
- Always post a safety message when it comes to water pics and boating.
- No off trail, off pavement instameets or meetups, and they must be cleared by the special use office along with the local enforcement officer.
- Do not post images, as beautiful as they are, from closed areas of the park without describing the closer and why it's close and asking for respect and participation.
- No camping photos that are not clearly from an approved camp site, with a location listed.
- The Instagram account manager will be responsible for recording, documenting, and reporting abusive accounts and reporting those accounts to law enforcement one per month.
Additional Reading - Instagram and Social Media wrecking our public lands and National ParksShould anyone doubt me, here are few more articles written about the subject of social media ruining our parks and environment . . .
Christina Adele Photography - a very well written piece from a National Parks social media employee now working in Yosemite. Give her post a read.
To them, the only purpose nature serves is to provide them with the shot that they can pump up in photoshop to gain more followers and impress their friends and family. They think about outdoing the shot the last person who visited got. They think about the now, and not about how their actions might affect these parks in the future. These actions continue to snowball as people do increasingly ridiculous things to outshine others.http://www.christinaadelephotography.com/blog/how-social-media-is-destroying-our-national-parks
Hillary Oliver for, "Adventure Journal," wrote another nice piece about Instagram and how some users are helping to destroy out environment.
“I’ve noticed a disturbing trend as well … seems a few people will go to great lengths for a photo op, even if it means setting up a tent in a fragile or dangerous spot…most likely not even camping there, but the problem is that it inspires others to do the same…a major brand even started a hasthtag ‘camp everywhere.’ I just hope people use good judgment when they are camping in the wilderness.”http://adventure-journal.com/2015/04/is-your-instagram-destroying-the-environment/
Why Did I Write This, resources and the business of photography?You may find this post a little strange since I'm a professional photographer and have a blog titled "Glacier Park Photographer." You might wonder, why would a photographer, who makes his living selling photographs, be harping on the very medium that feeds his family? It sounds a bit like the cook calling the kettle black - doesn't-it? You'd think I would be one of the first to get out there and make some cool photographs of people in the Park.
The demand to be noticed is out of control. Instagram has created a way for people to explore, and post photos of people using products. It's simple to tag the brand or send the photo. Often the payment is in trading out gear, or apparel, in exchange for an Instagram post, and or, some cash. Often times the brands adopt "ambassadors," and expect them to get the clearance and follow all the rules when taking photographs. Most, don't follow the rules, don't get permits, or do anything more than race to find the most spectacular location before the next guy . . . To be sure, it's all about getting noticed, building brands, and making money. Most of the people who engage in this kind of activity, are amateurs looking for a way to "make it," land a photo-shoot, or become a brand ambassador.
I believe there are limits. I've watched GNP be overrun by people who's only motivation is to park their VW bus in a meadow, climb on top of the roof rack, and take a self timed image to post to Instagram. In other words, it's selfish and all about their own ego. It has nothing to do with the Park, it's resources it's beauty beyond the fact that it makes a great photography studio. The last car shoot I did in the park, where I took few photos of the new Jeep for an editorial article in a car magazine cost me about $200 in fees, 4-5 hours in administrative time, a 40 page permit, not to mention I have to carry Glacier National Park specific insurance. Total cost for the shoot, about $800.
Some have argued that I don't understand the new generation of adventure photographers. Other's have called me washed up and unable to compete with the new hipster approach to photographing our national parks. I've been ban from the Glacier National Park's Instagram account for speaking out against it's poor choice of images and worse, policies about what and how post are made to it's Instagram feed. As much as the ban does not bother me, and I've since been reinstated, I believe the reason I was ban was becuase I spoke out about Glacier National Park's using images either that showed illegal activities, or in the very least, dramatized and encouraged questionable behavior. What follows should make my case.
Full discloseI have photographed products in Glacier. I've also worked on major motion picture films in Glacier. The difference, I applied and paid for my permits, and they're not cheap! I have also photographed my family and friends in the Park, but there was no product placement or payment, it was for education and or memories. I know GNP is not following up on these photo-shoots to check to see if any of them had permits.
FinallyAs we watch the Park be overrun, we should know that we can and should do something about it. GNP should imidiatly stop posting and sharing stupid, ill conceived images. It should review the recommendations and adopt them as needed. We should not allow this to continue for if we do, we will have only ourselves to blame. Photographs have power . . . Instagram and social media have power.
If you want to voice your concerns, leave a comment - they will get read by the superintendent of the Park. If you feel more compelled, please send comments or make a phone call. If you see stupid activities, report them. Stop a real Ranger and tell them what you're seeing. With some additional pressure from us, we'll help the Park Service do the right thing.
A link to the Glacier National Park Compendium (the rule book). You'll find a link to the pdf of the full document at the link above.
Email or call the Superintendent -