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Will the internet destroy the great outdoors?

By: Spencer McKee, OutThere Colorado
January 12, 2018 Updated: January 13, 2018 at 7:17 am
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A sign warning visitors to stay on the trail that leads to Hanging Lake. Photo Credit: Stephen Martin, OutThere Colorado.

Upon the creation and development of something truly new, it’s often hard to tell exactly how that invention will eventually be used. Do you think Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the World Wide Web, thought that his revolutionary creation would be used to spread funny cat videos? Probably not. But as it would turn out, this is what the people wanted, thus this is what the people got. And the changes brought about by the Internet weren’t limited to the cat video industry. They stretched far and wide, changing the way people interact with the world around them from reestablishing the standards of basic communication to developing new currencies with a value that exists in digital code.

As the human drive to obtain knowledge remains a priority, the means of obtaining information via the Internet are continually honed, making the process more simple with each new computer program that’s released. From Wikipedia to Reddit to AllTrails, finding the information that you’re looking for online is easier than ever, and as search algorithms become smarter with each update, the process only continues to improve.

It’s important to note that this ease of access also makes information increasingly difficult to restrict. In recent years, we’ve seen a direct (and some might call it negative) impact of this unlimited access in outdoor recreation. What used to be a “hidden gem” can now be easily found via a quick Google search.

Try it. Type “Secret Trails of Colorado” into your search bar. You’re delivered more than one million results in less than a second, from sources that range from official tourism boards to local newspapers to outdoor publications, like OutThere Colorado. It’s true, “secret” trails are less “secret” than ever. And as more people continue to spread the word about these once unknown attractions, more people become interested in tracking them down. The consequences of this shift towards easier exploration come in a variety of forms, some good, and some bad.

Working for a resource like OutThere Colorado, I’ve noticed that feedback from the outdoor community tends to come in two polarized forms. On one hand, people are excited about finding new places, thankful to have access to the resources that allow them to do so. On the other hand, some people feel violated, as if sharing information about “their local secret” is, in a way, stealing the ruggedness that makes a certain destination so special.

Personally, I don’t think that either train of thought is off-course. While published content about enchanting natural destinations can fuel the desire to form a connection with the great outdoors, it can also lead to increased foot traffic in remote area, something that can damage fragile ecosystems not meant for so many human visitors. But what’s right and what’s feasible are two very different questions.

This issue is something that I battle with on a regular basis, as many of the pieces that I write put the natural beauty of Colorado in front of the public eye. As someone who spends most of their free time outside, often without cell phone reception, I understand the instinct to keep some places sacred. There are a lot of cool places around Colorado that I refuse to write about because of this, and as a result, far fewer people will be able to see them. At the same time, I also understand utilizing the resources available to seek out the best possible experience. If I’m looking for my next adventure, I’ll probably head straight to the AllTrails in search of finding a tried and true recommendation, some of which are local “hidden” gems. I’d bet that a lot of the people who feel scorned by the content that brings awareness to outdoor destinations act the same way that I do – aware of the necessity to protect these natural areas, while also utilizing the resources that let them find a new natural spot.

Think back to the example at the beginning of this piece regarding the funny cat videos that found a home on the Internet. People wanted cat videos, so they got cat videos. People tend to adapt technology to fit their specific needs, regardless of its original intention, and for many, that need is easy access to information about exploring the outdoors. As long as this need remains widespread, the internet will continue to be used to fulfill this lack of accessibility that existed when trails and attractions could only be found by word of mouth or on a physical map. Unless internet users suddenly stop looking for new places to explore, the content about these places will continue to be created and will continue to be utilized, whether we like it or not.

Is there a solution? Read more at OutThere Colorado.

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