Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Tread Lightly on the Internet

By Paul Kalac

I was a thirteen or fourteen-year-old boy in the early 80’s when I started fly-fishing for trout.  I’m not sure if I instinctively understood to keep my favorite trout streams to myself, or if I was taught to keep them to myself by the old-timers who made me a fly-fisher. But I was imperfect.  I shared my favorite trout streams with some high school buddies. I know some of those guys were not my closest friends. So there’s no telling with whom they talked after we fished together.  I’m sure word got around to some degree.

A watershed association made up of key groups and individuals formed on my favorite trout stream in the 1990’s and I became secretary. I had since learned that trout streams need friends, not button-lipped fly fishers.  The minds of the old-timers who wanted to keep the stream’s secrets to themselves were flawed; all those who enjoyed or profited from the resource needed to come together to discuss and tackle issues related to the health of the watershed.

In groups of maybe three or four at public meetings, when after-hours conversation turned to trout fishing, some watershed group members spoke openly of great brook trout fishing in the headwaters that fed my favorite trout stream. Their words stuck to me like glue, and I acted on their words by fishing those headwater streams, finding success, and then largely keeping it to myself. The formation of a watershed association on my favorite trout stream didn’t mean that everyone simply revealed all the secrets spots in the watershed.

I moved to the Adirondacks in 2000 because I wanted big wilderness areas in which to get lost with backpacking gear and canoes. Internet forums were relatively new and hot in the 2000’s and people found them and talked about the Adirondacks late into the night. The internet chugged along outside the forums with all sorts of dot-coms devoted to shedding light on outdoor recreation in the Adirondacks. But if you sought fellowship and conversation especially, internet forums were the hang out. I saw a big difference between hiking/paddling threads and fishing threads on ADK forums. The hiking and paddling threads were loose and carefree, people shared without much ado. If you clicked on the fishing and hunting threads, the vibe was short answers and repeated warnings about “spot-burning.”  I was transported back to my teenage years on my favorite trout stream. 


I can’t find a Webster definition for spot-burning on-line, but the top definition on urbandictionary.com is, “When someone ruins your secret fishing spot.”  When put into a sentence, according to Urban Dictionary, it goes like this, “I can’t believe they found out where my fishing spot was from my Instagram pic and those (bleeps) spot-burned me.”  It appears spot-burning derived from fishing-related posts. A natural resource can be as small as a fiddlehead fern or field mouse, or be as big as Lake Superior or a mountain massif, but we know how fish and game rank at the top of all natural resources. The 2000’s forums tried to contain spot-burning, it was imperfect, but some push back was there for those folks who posted looking for the exact names and locations of new waters to fish.

We share more now than ever on social media like Facebook and Instagram. We share our dinner as it’s frying in the pan, and then another pic of it on a dinner plate. In these days of COVID, everything has been cancelled, or close to it. People are finding the outdoors because the music festival scene and water park is closed. That’s been my example in a nutshell. People are finding the outdoors and posting about it.  Facebook really got behind Groups in the last two years. Having friends with which to share stuff was limited yesterday to your 46 friends. Groups are the newest places of fellowship and conversation. There are Facebook groups devoted to hiking and devoted to paddling and devoted to backpacking and devoted to fishing and devoted to bushcrafting in the Adirondacks with individual memberships nearing 25,000 people. Guess what? I started a Facebook group about repairing canoes. We have 1000 members in 6 months from every corner of the world, including Tunisia. That’s northern Africa, somewhere near there.

Too much information?

Now comes the hard part. The internet world of information is at the fingertips of anyone who knows enough to enter a search term on Google. A person can find 10 mountains to hike in the Adirondacks while eating lunch, and download the GPS tracks. They need it during COVID. And I need it. Social media takes things to a second level, when we share our adventures with 25,000 people. When we share our adventures in great detail, like naming the pond where we paddled, a third thing happens. We engage a natural resource, the pond where we paddled. Social media is fun, but things assume another level when you engage a natural resource under the eyes of a ton of people. Bottle-necking to the most talked about places is sure to occur. Helping someone in their efforts to climb a mountain is a common post. If there are precisely 46 mountains to climb, you have engaged a natural resource with severe limits.

I was triggered and quit my groups (and I miss them some) when I saw posts pointing out the availability of backcountry canoe-camping sites down to the site number in real-time from the field. I’m not sure I want to go back. A few of my comments might still be fresh in member’s minds. It was nothing personal, but social media doesn’t take kindly to disagreeing with a post.

We should be sharing with the ultimate result being the protection of the natural resource. We don’t have to be tight-lipped; we should just tread lightly on the internet like we do in nature.

Paul Kalac lives in Gloversville at the foothills of the southern Adirondacks.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at editor@adirondackalmanack.com

18 Responses

  1. Kathy says:


  2. Mac says:

    In many ways it seems to be a generational thing, those of us of a certain age prefer solitude or the company of a few good friends while many younger generations seem to like the comfort of a multitude.

    I also was upset by the posting of open sites recently as well as those who have moved from site to site for a month or more, posting as they go, I know it’s legal but also very selfish.

    The genies out of the bottle as far as social media goes and things will never be what they were, call me old, call me an elitist, but I for one regret it.

    • Paul Kalac says:

      I think you are right about the “comfort of the multitude” in youth today. I see that.

    • Paul Kalac says:

      I’ve since learned, there are now three of us who were specifically triggered by those posts about open camping sites.

  3. Vanessa says:

    Definitely agree! Social media can be abused in many ways. For the ADK, yes it is bringing people and reducing solitude. But please allow this millennial to provide some context that I feel isn’t often considered in these discussions:

    *Social media is a technology, and getting angry at it in specific, instead of thinking about what motivates people to use it, isn’t productive. Imagine getting angry at a fax machine or the telephone.

    *Young people feel intense pressure to post too much, especially teens and younger 20 somethings, who have never known a world without social media. If you skip out, there are social consequences. I have not had a Facebook account in 10 years and people still think I’m some sort of mute hermit because of this… (no one this forum would make such an assumption, eh?)

    *Per both of the above, imo we need to stop trying to control a social phenomenon that has technological underpinnings and start figuring out how to use it to preserve the wilderness.

    Besides for just in the ADKs, national and state parks all over America are seeing overcrowding and people doing silly stuff, sometimes even getting killed in accidents, indirectly due to social media. You can’t really stop the message so you have to speak louder instead.

    For example, I really like work that some ADK personalities have been doing online to highlight how much trash there is on the trails. The increase in litter is tragic, and I think people will pay more attention when they see how much harm is being done. Also, the new 511 alerts for parking closures are also great. More of all of this, please.

  4. Concerned Citizen says:

    Would be nice if the Adirondack Almanac and Adirondack Explorer stopped publishing articles announcing a new un-discovered gem….

    • I’m glad you bring that up, as it’s been on my mind as well. But I’m not sure we’re contributing as much to the problem as the groups on social media that others mentioned. I see our role as trying to educate people about how to recreate responsibly and to discover that there’s more to the Adirondacks besides the High Peaks, but it’s interesting for me to hear the other side of this.

      • Mac says:

        I think that is important to bring to light various places within the ADKs that might not be on everyones radar. But with that said it is equally important not to hype them as the next best place. There has to be a line between providing an interesting article and pushing people to travel to new less used areas.

  5. To me, part of this issue lies with the increase of “extreme recreation.” Suddenly it’s not enough to climb mountains for the sake of climbing them, you have to bag all the peaks in quick succession. Trail running, trail challenges, all of that encourages this frenetic pace of activity and urgency to do it as fast as possible….

    • Balian the Cat says:

      I think that’s part of it Melissa, but I also see the whole “get a badge” “get on a list” bag this, bag that, as part of the whole superficial “Look at Me I have more / my life is one ongoing triumph” gonna make a living by being awesome perspective we seem to be in the midst of. Gone (but hopefully not forgotten) are the days of nature as a restorative experience where I can be quiet and respectful of myself and others paradigm. Not too many selfies of folks surrounded by bugs deep in the Five Ponds – we need to be King of Strava / the Hill, life is a 24/7 destination wedding to feel good about ourselves.

      Eep – a bit ranty, that.

      • Boreas says:

        Hard not to blame social media for much of that. When I started on the 46 in the 70s, there was no rush. Most people took years to finish. Nobody knew I was climbing them unless I told them. Even getting the credit for each peak took time with a snail-mail letter to Grace. I didn’t even decide to climb them all until I had about 25 under my belt. Information was distributed via a quarterly magazine. When you finished, some people had a champagne toast on their final peak with a few close friends. That was it. The only person out of the norm as I recall was a guy who climbed them barefoot!

        Today, people are barraged with SM posts about acquaintances who polished them off in 6 months, so of course, the competition begins. Everything is competitive – not laid back like the hippie days. Now people set ambitious goals to climb them in a month, or a week. People are indeed different today. They hike with their posse, making a virtual documentary as they do. Why would 25-75 people on a summit be a negative thing?? Ao it goes..

        But one thing that hasn’t changed is the impact each of us has on the resource. And we need to keep in mind the “resource” is more than the trail we are eroding. It is wildlife, vegetation, and the most overlooked aspect – solitude. Many people don’t consider solitude a valuable resource, but others find it more valuable than gold.

      • Mac says:

        Definitely agree with you! There is also the “herd mentality” of younger generations. They need to be part of a “team” not an individual.

    • John Sasso says:

      Melissa, my perspective based on having hiked/bushwhacked every stretch of the Adirondack Park for 10 yrs, actively engaged in trail work in the Adks for 9 yrs, part of the Trailhead Steward Program for 3 yrs, and a 46er Correspondent.

      I agree that we are seeing considerable increases in “extreme recreation,” such as doing the CL50 in a single day, the Ultra peakbagging challenges, and completing the ADK46 in a short period of time. Often we see posts of people bagging peaks who brag about their time. But I think this extreme recreation is a small part of it. I think Vanessa had a point when she commented:

      “Young people feel intense pressure to post too much, especially teens and younger 20 somethings, who have never known a world without social media. If you skip out, there are social consequences.”

      There is a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) aspect of SM which does not appear to be a particularity with young people. I see it across all ages. A sense of narcissism is imbued in some (well, many, IMHO) cases. The desire to get involved in the “adventure” and advertise the experience to the masses.

      What I see are sets of photos peppered with many selfies, but little narrative on their experience. I ask myself, “Did they get anything out of their journey? Or was this an endeavor to get something done and show it off to the world?” As a 46er Correspondent who also writes the annual 46er finisher report for a magazine (hence, I have to go through 600+ finisher reports), I do not see much in the way of people expressing their experiences of the journey, be they good or bad. This is not to say every hike has to be a good one, but telling me you did Street and Nye in just three sentences doesn’t tell me much. In fact, it tells me you were just looking to check the peaks off a list – and that’s it.

      In stark contrast to the days before social media, where people wrote more about their experiences (even if it was just to their correspondent, in the case of the ADK46). Heck, those with some understanding of Adirondack history are aware of the great influx of people who flocked to the Adirondacks in the19th century (e.g. Murray’s Fools). There certainly was no patch, number or certificate to go after, nor places to post photos. Yet, when these people wrote about their experiences (i.e., those which were published in local newspapers), they wrote extensively about their experiences during their journey, the good and the bed. I had the opportunity to read the letters written by Bob and George Marshall to Russell ML Carson, back in the 1920s, about their hikes, and they wrote extensively, even in regard to peaks not on their original ADK42 peak list! In short, the journey was important to these people, not the end result.

      Today, I see the end result being more important. That is my take on things today. I should end my long scree now 😉

      • Boreas says:

        “What I see are sets of photos peppered with many selfies, but little narrative on their experience. I ask myself, “Did they get anything out of their journey?”

        I suppose people feel the narrative is in the photos. They aren’t tasked with getting the experience through to others without photos. Rather than carry a 3 pound SLR, I usually carried a little pocket-sized Olympus during the 80s. Either I or it took crappy pictures or slides that cost about $1 each – big money in those days! Then I had virtually no-one to show them to. So they exist now to perhaps register a memory.

        Today, it seems as if the photo narrative is the goal and the hike is the requirement to get those images. I’m not judging – just my impression through these old eyes.

  6. dwighthight@gmail.com says:

    smaller. ow how to keep them pristine except limiting entry. The World is getting smaller. Some people think everything should be shared, but they’re usually the ones that respect nothing, especially nature and her resources. They also are usually polluters. Enough said I guess.

  7. Dave Taft says:

    SO glad to read these comments – coming from a city whose region now supports an estimated 13,000,000 individuals, I regret to say, I’ve never seen the “more friends” theory work. I’d agree with the article too, that keeping secrets doesn’t work either in this brave new world of social media. What social media leads to ultimately, I cannot say, but the depressing notion that a brave new world of litter on eroded trails, worn, sadly over-fished and unnaturally overregulated brooks is what inevitably awaits is truly sad. Covid has taught me that the influx of users to parks was often more about sheer boredom than any great desire to hike trails or understand more of that experience. I’m sure some of that happened, but once the malls re-opened, so went the crowds “experiencing” nature along trails…The relatively new technology I see sprouting from the bills of ball caps on every stream – the portable camera – says much…more about narcissisms – lecturing about your great knowledge or experience (with illustrations!), than absorbing any of the lessons…at least profoundly making any connection. Again – a bit of a rant – I don’t know what the solution is, but I look at my daughter and I wonder what her experience will be in the same woods I walked…

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