People who spend a lot of time in the woods often develop favorite spots. I’ve had plenty of these over the years, and one of my chosen ones was a swimming hole in the Catskill Park.
I developed an affinity for this spot while living and working as a landscaper and dry-stone mason just outside of Woodstock after college. I loved doing this work because it was physically demanding and job sites were in scenic locations. Many days after work, my co-worker and I would be completely exhausted and overheated, so we’d take a drive to a place called the Blue Hole, a little-known swimming hole he’d discovered by word of mouth that was an easy walk from the road.
It was pristine and perfect habitat for brook trout. I recall sticking my head into the water and watching the fish swimming along the bottom where the water rolled into the hole. We would jump in the frigid water but quickly return to the shorelines. The water must have been spring fed because it was too cold to tolerate for very long. When we visited the Blue Hole, we hardly ever saw anyone else. So it was the perfect place to rejuvenate after a long, hard day of work.
After moving from the Catskills, I forgot about the Blue Hole. But then it started popping up in the news and in media releases because it had become overrun with people. Hundreds of visitors were showing up on weekends. It got so out of control that the state Department of Environmental Conservation felt it was necessary to require people to get permits. Photos on the DEC website showed people and garbage all along the shoreline. I looked into why this was happening and found that the Blue Hole had been listed as the top swimming hole in New York state by one online publication and promoted by many other outlets. One story that promoted it had more than a 100,000 Facebook shares. Being less than two hours from New York City, it wasn’t long before the crowds started showing up.
As an outdoors writer and photographer, this is the type of situation I think about often, especially when it comes to photos on social media. Part of our job at the Explorer is to draw people outdoors and introduce them to wild places. But we also write about aesthetically beautiful and environmentally sensitive places and make sure they are being properly protected. The two aspects of the job can sometimes be in conflict with one another because overcrowding of backcountry destinations has become so prevalent in recent years.
This is something I try to think about as I post an image on Instagram or write a trip story. How does the potential for overcrowding impact what I write about or which photos I post on social media? I don’t have the answer to this problem and I’ve made mistakes along the way that I’ve learned from. Mainly, I try to consider the setting and circumstances in each photo and trip. When I write a trip story, I choose places I believe aren’t prone to overcrowding. For instance, I wrote a trip story about snowshoeing to Sawyer Mountain near Indian Lake. I don’t believe this mountain will ever been overrun because of its distance from highways and population centers. It’s also a good hike and incredibly enjoyable but doesn’t have the “wow factor” of some of the more crowded spots.
But, if you’ve followed my work, you’ll notice I do post some photos from High Peaks like Mount Marcy, which do have the “wow factor” on Instagram. I do that when there is some news value related to the post or something to say beyond Mount Marcy being a destination. Its my job to keep up with the issues in the High Peaks region and there’s no avoiding Mount Marcy, which has been promoted as the state’s highest peak for years. But places like Mount Marcy do have vulnerable ecosystems, such as the alpine vegetation atop the mountain. This is something I consider when writing or posting an image on social media.
Recently, the Explorer has been publishing a series of articles about the Sable Highlands by Phil Brown. Many of these spots are indeed not well known and could be considered secret or hidden. However, Phil isn’t writing about the lands with the intention of drawing hundreds of people there, and I doubt they ever would. He is writing about them because it’s a place that has a recreation plan that wasn’t implemented and it’s another place that has potential to draw some people, which could lessen the impacts on popular destinations.
I could go on, but I’d like to hear from you. What is your philosophy about posting images from your trips on social media? Do you keep your secret spots to yourself or do you share them? There is a dialogue on the subject of sharing secret spots on the Adirondack Almanack right now. I encourage you to post your thoughts about that subject there by following this link.
Photo of Blue Hole courtesy of the Catskills Center.
Editor’s note: This first appeared in Mike’s weekly “Backcountry Journal” newsletter. Click here to subscribe.