Sunday, March 5, 2017

Millennials Go Digital in the Adirondack Park

millennials in the adirondacksGrowing up in Keene Valley, Sophie McClelland often sought solitude on Indian Head, a rocky cliff with a gorgeous view of Lower Ausable Lake in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve.

Now twenty-seven, she noticed this summer that more people were visiting the lookout. One morning she arrived at sunrise to find a half-dozen people already there. Over Columbus Day weekend, she counted more than twenty-five hikers on the summit.

“They were all trying to find their perfect frame of the wilderness shot, the Instagram photo,” McClelland said.

The view of Lower Ausable Lake is one of the most picturesque in the Adirondack Park, and it’s relatively accessible by a moderate five-mile hike, most of it along a dirt road. Professional photographers and ordinary hikers have been drawn to the spot for ages. And now photos from Indian Head are cropping up frequently on Instagram and other social media. These no doubt inspire other people to go to Indian Head and take their own photos. And so the cycle continues.

Many people posting photos on social media belong to the millennial generation, those who came of age around the start of this century. McClelland says millennials like herself are drawn to outdoor pursuits and learn of new places to go from Instagram, Facebook, and other social media. A few years ago, for example, some friends asked her to hike the Great Range with them after seeing her posts about previous trips.

evan and hilary williamsWilmington native Evan Williams, who is twenty-nine, understands well the appeal of social media to outdoor enthusiasts. Williams owns Pure Adirondacks (known as Pure ADK), a marketing and online retail business that sprung from social media. Williams now lives in Syracuse but travels regularly to the Adirondacks with his wife, Hilary, and posts photos and videos about their adventures in the wild.

Pure ADK has more than twelve thousand Facebook followers, which is a lot, but it has really taken off on Instagram. Williams said the number of his Instagram followers jumped from three thousand in April 2015 to more than seventeen thousand a year later, and it’s now approaching twenty-six thousand. As of early December, Pure ADK had posted 903 photos on Instagram—images that drew more than 579,500 likes and more than 14,300 comments. The social-media hashtag #PureADK has been used more than 30,800 times on Instagram. Williams has leveraged Pure ADK’s exposure to land photography and videography jobs, market Adirondack-related products such as T-shirts, hats, and vintage posters, and sell ads on his social-media channels. Pure ADK has been so successful that last spring Williams started to rely on the business for his full-time income. Many people who contact him for services are trying to reach millennials.

“I think they are probably trying to get that younger generation, especially Instagram,” he said. “If you think about it, a lot of people on there are the millennials, so it’s definitely an outlet to reach them versus a more traditional print or paper ad.”

He said photos on Instagram and social media inspire young people, himself included, “to try new things, visit new places.” He cited Iceland as a tourist destination that has benefited from scenic photos on social media. Williams and his wife have visited the country twice in recent years.

cori simmons“It was as a result of social media that you can see their tourism has blown up. Just because you see these photos of Iceland all over the place,” he said. “It’s happening in the Adirondacks, too, because there are certain people that are hiking in the High Peaks every weekend and sharing their photos, and you can see how that has inspired other people to get out and want to do the same thing. I think mostly it’s been for the good and for the positive.”

But Brendan Wiltse, one of the founders of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, warns that there is a downside to social media. He recently came across Instagram images that portrayed scenes of illegal activities, such as camping in the alpine vegetation on the summit of Mount Marcy. Even if the photo was staged, it could promote bad behavior.
“I don’t think that person or account intended to do anything that was bad for the resource,” he said. “Their focus was creating images that would go viral on Instagram, and that isn’t always synonymous with the principles of Leave No Trace and specifically the regulation in the High Peaks.”

But Wiltse, a resident of Saranac Lake, also noted that there is a growing number of people who post images and messages that promote wilderness ethics. He said social media played a key role in spreading the word about public hearings on the Boreas Ponds land classification. A large number of millennials showed up at the hearings in support of having the Boreas Ponds Tract designated a motor-free Wilderness.

instagram post by Pure ADKOne of the millennials who supported the Wilderness classification was Tyler Socash, a native of Old Forge and resident of Lake Placid. Socash, who is thirty, is an avid hiker who recently completed three long-distance trails—the Pacific Crest Trail, Te Araroa in New Zealand, and the Appalachian Trail. While on the Pacific Crest Trail, he began promoting Leave No Trace ethics on social media. Last year, responding to publicity about litter and human waste in the High Peaks, he regularly posted photos of himself picking up garbage in the backcountry, hoping to inspire others to do the same.

“Young people are excited to share their experiences in the outdoors …,” he said. “Social media is becoming a powerful motivator.”

Photos from above: Millennials in the Adirondacks; Evan and Hilary Williams, courtesy Evan Williams; Cori Simmons takes a selfie at Heart Lake, courtesy Seth Jones; and An Instagram post from Pure ADK, courtesy Evan Williams.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.

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Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues. Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake. Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at

25 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Good article, Mike!

    Our forebears passed down to us this unique region – shaped by decades of struggle to protect the lands while still enabling people to live and work within the Park. It would have been much easier to make a park along the lines of Great Smoky Mtn. NP, but NYS took the unusual route of creating the Blue Line thus allowing many varied types of land usage within it. But the creation of the Blue Line also created over a century of bitterness and resentment that needs to be acknowledged and hopefully overcome by future generations.

    I truly hope millenials and future generations take the effort to assimilate the knowledge, insight, struggles, and achievements of the past in order to pass down to their children the complex history and nature of the ADKs – not just their personal photographic memories.

  2. Justin Farrell says:

    Not sure this just a “Millennial” thing. Lots of “Boomers” & Gen Xers” are also on Facebook, Instagram, etc, and even have their own YouTube channels with several Adirondack related videos. This is certainly by no means anything new since the advent of the internet, smart phones, & GoPro cameras.

    • Balian the Cat says:


      You usually put a lot of thought into this kind of stuff, so I am asking a serious question: I am a Gen Xer who shivers at the thought of all this technology in the back country. I am a real experiential guy who craves solitude and thrives on the merits of self-reliance. Am I at all justified in thinking social media and related technologies “dilute” the types of experiences that I deem valuable in the wild…or am I just getting old and cranky? I truly feel that gaggles of folks with selfie sticks crowding summits without any interest in anything they’ve experienced along the way besides narcissistic exposure is a “bad” thing but I don’t want to be jerk if there’s something I am missing.

      • John Warren says:

        Tell us how you know that the people you see “with selfie sticks crowding summits” have no “interest in anything they’ve experienced along the way besides narcissistic exposure” and we’ll tell you whether or not you’re being a jerk. Or maybe you’ll answer the question for yourself.

        • Balian the Cat says:

          Thats a good point, John and something I will have to think through for myself. Thanks.

          It is, of course, and assumption/judgement on my part.

          • John Warren says:

            Just a friendly nudge, lol. I’m glad you read through my snark. Thanks for commenting.

            • Balian the Cat says:

              And a well placed nudge at that. God save me from friends who won’t tell me that I have bad breathe!

              • M.P. Heller says:

                What is the difference between rushing up some peak to get a selfies and rushing up a peak to check a box on a climbing list? People seek wild experiences for their own reasons. Unless they are actually causing harm who are we to judge those reasons? Do you judge the other drivers in their cars with whom you share the road and then determine if their reasons for driving that day meet some level of self determined acceptability?

      • Justin Farrell says:

        Thanks for the message. To each their own my friend. I understand that not everyone is in favor of people sharing their adventures on the internet for all to see, and that’s ok. My own main reason for recording some (not all) of my adventures with a GoPro camera is so one day in the future when I’m older & unable to do the things that I can now, I can relive some of these fun memories so-to-speak. I don’t have any childeren, but I would imagine others do the same so that they can show their children & grandchildren…”hey look what your partent(s) & grandparent(s) did when they were younger”. I too enjoy solitude, but I also don’t mind if some of my photos and/or videos inspire someone else to perhaps enjoy the same adventure that I may have shared on the internet. After all, we often see comments here on the Almanack that we want more tourism in different areas of the Adirondacks other than the High Peaks region. As long as you’re not promoting illegal activity, I don’t have any problems with it. Though I’ve definitely learned that you do need to be a little careful of what you put out there, as not everyone has the same beliefs & ethics about what is acceptable backwoods etiquette. With that said, here’s a link to my YouTube channel:

        • Balian the Cat says:

          Thanks! I will check out the link you sent. John already cut through my BS above. I will give all of this more than thought than I have previously.

      • SwilliAm says:

        Balian, you’re not alone in your aversion toward technology in the wilderness. Your post reminds my of this Bill Bryson passage in his classic, A Walk in the Woods:

        “Call me a tiresome old fogey, but I hate all this technology on the trail. Some AT hikers, I had read, now carry laptop computers and modems, so that they can file daily reports to their family and friends. (If you are considering doing this yourself, here’s a tip. Nobody cares that much. I’m sorry, that’s not true. Nobody cares at all). And now increasingly you find people with electronic gizmos like the Enviro Monitor or wearing sensors attached by wires to their pulse points so that they look as if they’ve come to the trail straight from some sleep clinic.
        In 1996 the Wall Street Journal ran a splendid article on the nuisance of satellite navigation devices, cell phones and other such appliances in the wilderness. All this high-tech equipment, it appears, is drawing up into the mountains people who perhaps shouldn’t be there.”

        • Justin Farrell says:

          Is it truly an “aversion” that many people in modern times enjoy sharing their adventures & good times with friends, family, & fellow outdoor enthusiasts? Please forgive me for saying so but that choice of wording does seem a little on the “old & cranky” side. ?

          • Balian the Cat says:

            Justin – your points continue to be well taken, but let me give you a specific example. I feel (a loaded term, but applicable) that a great deal of “mystery” has been taken out of life by social media. There are so few places that aren’t mapped, GIS’d, covered from every angle by pictures, etc that heading out into the “unknown” is virtually impossible anymore. Yes, of course, it’s possible to try and look at nothing before a trip or a hike, but there are those of us who miss the days of discovery and adventure. Aldo Leoplod once lamented the last “unmapped” place on earth – now that place has a precise coordinate, photo gallery, and several videos of people treating it like it was their living room. I apologize if I am missing something culturally (I am not particularly old) and I am not insisting that everyone share my point of view. I just miss certain types of experiences that seem, to me, to be harder and harder to find.

            • Justin Farrell says:

              Thanks Cat,
              Do you like to bushwhack? There are lots of places in the Adirondacks to explore that are virtually unknown & full of surprises, and the opportunities are truly endless! It’s a whole different world once you get away from the well traveled beaten path. -Justin

  3. Larry Roth says:

    Science fiction writer Larry Niven came up with something a few years ago. Matter transmitters (transfer booths) let people travel instantly to any place a booth was located. Which led to flash crowds.

    Let something start trending on social media, let something come up in the news, and the next thing that would happen is thousands of people showing up…

    We’re not there yet, but social media is definitely changing the game. What was that old quote? “Nobody goes there any more – it’s too crowded.”

    • Bruce says:

      “It’s too crowded.” Just look at the High Peaks going out of the Loj parking lot. The leave no trace ethic is a good one, but what do you get when thousands of people visit the same places over and over, people who believe they are practicing “leave no trace?” Trail and site damage are hardly leave no trace. I often ask myself the question, “is it still Wilderness when a large group of people can access a peak at the same time for a “kegger”, as happened this past summer?”

      I’ve no doubt that social media is a contributing factor to the deterioration of some of our most beautiful wild places.

      • Boreas says:


        It seems social media is similar to the old ADK guidebooks published a century ago by SR Stoddard and others – mostly true but often exaggerated enticing others to follow in their footsteps. Is it a good or bad thing? Yes.

        • Bruce says:


          I’m not one for keeping good things to myself, but on the other hand I don’t get on social media and tell everyone within earshot (I-phoneshot?) about it. Many hundreds actually reading the guidebooks and/or getting it through word of mouth over time is a lot different from the ability to send information to an entire FB crowd in an instant. I’m not so sure it is an exaggeration.

          As tough as Everest is, it has become necessary to limit the number of climbers allowed on it in a season.

    • Lorraine Duvall says:

      Yogi Berra

  4. Yogi Berra says:

    Lorraine Duvall

  5. Justin Farrell says:

    I for one very much enjoy viewing “Pure Adk’s” photos & videos, as well as the many other groups & individuals that share their adventures on facebook, YouTube, Insagram, etc with fellow outdoor enthusiasts. For me, that’s what keep things fun & enjoyable on social media in the first place. Congratulations to Mr. Williams for being able to make a living out of it. Keep up the good work!

  6. rc says:

    Humans are social animals. Nothing has changed but their ability to communicate in a different way. Hopefully they learn the value of their surroundings from their experiences in the outdoors – I have hope and actually no doubt most will. The crowds may show up at the “high lights”, so then they need protection from crowds. No big deal. We can deal with it.

    If more people see the value in wilderness, maybe the EPA wouldn’t be raped by the current administration.

  7. Todd Eastman says:

    Be glad that people are out in the woods and enjoying their experiences. Time in nature has a way of impacting one’s perspective on preserving wild places.

    Here’s to protecting the the wild places even if it seems more crowded.

    We likely have more in common with people we see in the remote sections of the woods than we do with our neighbors…

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