The Memaloose Hills and Social Media

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chrisca
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Joined: January 22nd, 2010, 10:48 am

The Memaloose Hills and Social Media

Post by chrisca » May 16th, 2019, 1:01 pm

Over the past three years or so, visitor traffic at the Memaloose Hills has dramatically increased. This website has a field guide page for it at https://www.oregonhikers.org/field_guid ... Hills_Hike . Damage to the summit at one of the hills after the spring bloom season has created a trampled area is approximately an oval 42 feet wide and 63 feet long. There's no topsoil remaining on the ground except what's between the rocks that make up the subsoil and I estimate 95% of the plants have been trampled, destroying any aboveground vegetation.
Summit Damage Panorama web.png
While I rarely go out to the Gorge on peak bloom weekends, last week I chose to do it to evaluate the impact that social media and the Internet are having on recreation use. I got an eyeful. We drove by the Memaloose State Park overlook, and found around 100 cars parked there, with many of them illegally parked and intruding into the travel lane causing other cars to cross over the centerline to pass on a blind corner.
IMG_1957.PNG
I pulled up Google Maps, and found a "trailhead" had been created at the spot, and it was rated 4.8/5 stars. I don't recall that this is a sanctioned trailhead of the Forest Service or State Parks.

When Googling it, I found the above article on Oregonhikers.org and another at the WTA website, as well as a few others.

The summit damage is extensive enough that it's visible on Google Earth from satellites.
Google Earth 2018 Summit web.png
When these articles were first written, the area was lightly used and they served as a way to give savvy hikers a new option to avoid crowds. That's no longer the case. Google Maps has a feature to "add a missing place," and anyone can suggest a place on the map regardless of the consequences. What has happened is that Google and other web apps are able to consolidate information from online articles along with map coordinates hikers have posted in their photos, and create new recreation sites that have no plan for their management. This is a significant development, and we're seriously behind in addressing it. Not only is this site in a place with insufficient parking, but it's also very unsafe due to the blind curve and the high level of bike traffic on US 30.

After I reported this issue to TKO, WTA, Friends of the Gorge, and the Forest Service, cautionary language was added to the Field Guide page above about overuse. I don't think that's enough to address the problem. The page should be taken down. In talking with nearby residents, they report that visitation has dramatically increased in the last three years, about the same timeframe that social media interest in this location has boomed. If online popularization of this site and many others isn't curtailed, we're going to lose many precious spots and valuable habitat to Instagrammers who are ignorant of the consequences of their actions.

Do not geotag your photos if you post them. Don't post locations of sensitive sites online. It is creating headaches for land managers, destroying sensitive habitat, and increasing danger for pedestrians and cyclists from illegal parking. Leave No Virtual Trace.

Aimless
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Re: The Memaloose Hills and Social Media

Post by Aimless » May 16th, 2019, 1:21 pm

I endorse the idea of Leave No Virtual Trace, but I fear it will not be enough.

As with many social problems, having a preponderant majority of hikers refrain from posting location-tagged photos and glowing verbal descriptions is not enough. The sheer size of society is so vast that even 99% compliance by 1,000 hikers will still leave 10 people instagramming and publicizing places, which then becomes available to millions more, so you get another 1,000, of whom 10 more post photos, etc.

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Bosterson
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Re: The Memaloose Hills and Social Media

Post by Bosterson » May 16th, 2019, 1:27 pm

chrisca wrote:
May 16th, 2019, 1:01 pm
When these articles were first written, the area was lightly used and they served as a way to give savvy hikers a new option to avoid crowds. That's no longer the case. Google Maps has a feature to "add a missing place," and anyone can suggest a place on the map regardless of the consequences. What has happened is that Google and other web apps are able to consolidate information from online articles along with map coordinates hikers have posted in their photos, and create new recreation sites that have no plan for their management. This is a significant development, and we're seriously behind in addressing it.
Wow. This is an astute observation, Chris. We are now in a reciprocal era where the locations of recreations sites are crowdsourced, and then their "publication" by major internet content providers legitimize them as being sanctioned. That is a vicious cycle we definitely need to address!
After I reported this issue to TKO, WTA, Friends of the Gorge, and the Forest Service, cautionary language was added to the Field Guide page above about overuse. I don't think that's enough to address the problem. The page should be taken down.
I agree. The Field Guide here should not publish information about any area that is not an official maintained hiking area. I think that many people consider the Field Guide as being the digital equivalent of a hiking guidebook, but the reach of the internet is so much greater than printed books that the comparison is hardly justified.
In talking with nearby residents, they report that visitation has dramatically increased in the last three years, about the same timeframe that social media interest in this location has boomed. If online popularization of this site and many others isn't curtailed, we're going to lose many precious spots and valuable habitat to Instagrammers who are ignorant of the consequences of their actions.

Do not geotag your photos if you post them. Don't post locations of sensitive sites online. It is creating headaches for land managers, destroying sensitive habitat, and increasing danger for pedestrians and cyclists from illegal parking. Leave No Virtual Trace.
I agree entirely. It simply is no longer safe to post information online anymore. I never post about off trail adventures here for that very reason. Some people will knee jerk that "information wants to be free," and make some spurious argument about good information being the solution to bad information, but the only viable solution is a wholesale moratorium on publishing information about unofficial areas. To the extent that the Field Guide is used by hikers as an "official" information source, the Field Guide thus is obligated to be restrictive about the information it publishes. Google should also create policies to allow for unofficial areas to be removed from Google Maps if someone objects. They currently have a very decentralized and diffuse management policy for that kind of thing (I once tried to get the ROA arch removed from Google Maps, and someone put it back with the justification that it should be on there because people know it's there and visit it, or some such), so getting Google to change tack would likely take a bit of lobbying. This would be a great advocacy opportunity for the various hiking groups in the area, such as TKO.
Will hike off trail for fun.

Webfoot
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Re: The Memaloose Hills and Social Media

Post by Webfoot » May 16th, 2019, 2:28 pm

chrisca wrote:
May 16th, 2019, 1:01 pm
After I reported this issue to TKO, WTA, Friends of the Gorge, and the Forest Service, cautionary language was added to the Field Guide page above about overuse. I don't think that's enough to address the problem. The page should be taken down.
I disagree. There are things in the Field Guide that I question the wisdom of publishing, but this at present is not one of them. The time for such discretion is before the thing becomes popularly known. At this point there is no way to put the genie back in the bottle; the best we can do now is to inform and admonish to the extent possible. Removing the voice of the responsible hiking community, of which I like to think we belong, will not result in better public discourse or behavior.
Bosterson wrote:
May 16th, 2019, 1:27 pm
I agree. The Field Guide here should not publish information about any area that is not an official maintained hiking area.
Has that ever been the case? What's the point of having the Field Guide at all then, when official FS.USDA.gov and OregonStateParks.org sites already exist?

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Bosterson
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Re: The Memaloose Hills and Social Media

Post by Bosterson » May 16th, 2019, 3:12 pm

Webfoot wrote:
May 16th, 2019, 2:28 pm
The time for such discretion is before the thing becomes popularly known. At this point there is no way to put the genie back in the bottle; the best we can do now is to inform and admonish to the extent possible. Removing the voice of the responsible hiking community, of which I like to think we belong, will not result in better public discourse or behavior.
I have heard this same argument made for years in these discussions, and I think it's a fallacy. The USFS just locked down access to the Central Oregon Cascades, and one of the justifications was essentially that information signs do not work to prevent bad behavior. It is heartwarming to imagine inexperienced hikers coming across admonishments in the Field Guide and then heeding them, or realizing they want to be stewards of the environment, but for every person like that there are surely a dozen others who simply use the FG to find where a place is, and then go and trample it for Instagram glory.

W/r/t the genie and the bottle, I would argue that the bottle is irrelevant if no one can find the genie. I take as axiomatic (you may disagree) that every impediment to people actually finding information online weeds out a proportion of overuse; the harder it is for people to figure out where a place is, the fewer people will go, as there are other low-hanging fruit for selfies. Consider a situation where someone spots a photo of Melamoose Hills on IG and when they google the area, the top search results are other IG photos or other nonspecific references rather than a FG entry with GPS coordinates and driving directions being at the top of the list. In the first situation, some of the people keep searching and maybe dig up more information, but others give up and look for somewhere else. In the second situation, all of them print out (screenshot?) the FG and then go to Melamoose Hills. Similarly, people randomly trawling through the FG looking for ideas will not come across Melamoose Hills as an option if it's not listed in the FG. Any reduction in directing users into unofficial places should generate a practical benefit for the outdoors.
Will hike off trail for fun.

Webfoot
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Re: The Memaloose Hills and Social Media

Post by Webfoot » May 16th, 2019, 3:57 pm

I see your point, but I am not convinced. Regarding "the Instagram crowd" I don't have any numbers to back up my impressions, but it doesn't seem like people are relying on the Field Guide to get to these places. I don't think "if no one can find the genie" is at all realistic. Are you seeing people bragging about tagging e.g. Memaloose Hills and then being mysterious about how to get there? Do you really think that it is better for someone to head out only with pins for the trailhead and denuded summit, rather than seeing a Field Guide page where they could be exposed to positive ideas that might take root? If you can somehow make the case that a large fraction of people who learn about Melamoose Hills would never go there if not for the FG page please do so, but you haven't yet done that.
Similarly, people randomly trawling through the FG looking for ideas will not come across Melamoose Hills as an option if it's not listed in the FG. Any reduction in directing users into unofficial places should generate a practical benefit for the outdoors.
Broadly I don't agree with your premise. Many unofficial trails could benefit from boots on the ground to help keep them open. I would like to see more trails, not fewer. Maybe this particular trail should have been left out of the field guide due to its fragility and potential for abuse, but again IMHO that time has passed. Given the present situation I doubt more than a small fraction of people find it this way. Do we have any data about how often a particular Field Guide page is found via browsing rather than a direct search?

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jime
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Re: The Memaloose Hills and Social Media

Post by jime » May 16th, 2019, 4:02 pm

And, the banner photo today on the Portlandhikers facebook page is …….. Memaloose Hills!

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Chip Down
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Re: The Memaloose Hills and Social Media

Post by Chip Down » May 16th, 2019, 5:50 pm

The great irony is that I had never heard of this place until now, and now I want to go! But I dont care about flowers, and I hate crowds, so maybe in October, or early on a weekday.

Know what the difference is between an official U$F$ trail and a user trail? One of them is "managed" by jackbooted thugs who hate hikers and crave authority.

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adamschneider
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Re: The Memaloose Hills and Social Media

Post by adamschneider » May 16th, 2019, 5:52 pm

As long as Instagram, Facebook, and Google Maps exist, taking a location out of the Field Guide isn't going to make one bit of difference in the grand scheme of things. As Webfoot said, wouldn't it be better for people to read about a trail from us than from the hashtaggers? We can put an "enjoy nature responsibly" spin on things.

Maybe there needs to be a big loud warning on all FG pages that says "HEY, IF YOU GO TO THIS PLACE, DON'T BE A JERK."

Webfoot
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Re: The Memaloose Hills and Social Media

Post by Webfoot » May 16th, 2019, 8:08 pm

Maybe putting a few of those "Please stay on the trail; plants grow by the inch and die by the foot!" signs somewhere at the bottom of the hill would be useful; even if the most brazen completely ignore it others might be politely reminded.

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