Growing 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.
Wilmington 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.
“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.
One 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.