Jordan: It’s Canada Day weekend. There’s no better time to get outside and explore the wild untouched nature that makes our country so lovely. And remember, when you’re communing with the earth and taking in all of this stunning beauty, if you don’t get a selfie and post it on Instagram, it basically never happened. Sounds like I’m being an old grump complaining about kids these days, but don’t listen to me, ask people who work in some of Canada’s most precious and protected parks. If selfies are a problem, they’ll tell you some stories. The issue isn’t with the pictures themselves, it is everything that comes along with them, and for some of the best kept secrets in our wilderness one of the things that comes along with selfies on Instagram is the metadata, and metadata does not keep secrets. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is The Big Story. Joel Barde took a look in The Walrus about what selfies are doing to some of Canada’s parks. Hi Joel.
Joel: Hello, Jordan. How are you?
Jordan: I’m doing very well. Tell me what we’re seeing in Canada’s natural parks, natural wonders, vistas, etc these days?
Joel: Well, you know, I think we’re seeing a lot more people. There’s a lot more kind of interest in getting into parks and kind of backcountry locations. It might not necessarily be parks, and you know, we’re seeing this especially a lot in the sea to the sky where I live. I live in Whistler, and the whole region is just been really busy, especially over the last five years with, you know, a lot of people kind of discovering the backcountry, and a lot of international tourists coming to Vancouver, you know, putting places like Garibaldi Provincial Park, and Joffre Lakes Provincial Park or Glory Park in North Vancouver kind of on the list of things to do. But we’re kind of seeing like, unprecedented visitation to a lot of the parks, especially in BC.
Jordan: Why is that?
Joel: I think they’re just in the culture. There’s kind of more of a kind of understanding, or appreciation of kind of getting out there, and more of an understanding that, you know, this is something you can do, like, you know what I mean? You can kind of get to somewhere like the grouse grind, and it’s free, and it’s relatively accessible, and it’s something you can enjoy, and I think the Internet’s kind of made these places more accessible. It’s easy to find directions for example. It’s easy to find different places to go, groups to do it with. But then you know there’s this other element of it which I kind of focus on pieces is ah, through Instagram and a lot of people are learning about different hikes through Instagram, and obviously with like an Instagram post, you know, most of them are like geo-tagged. So when you see a beautiful trendy post or a photo from a friend, it’s easy to kind of look that place up, and just determine where it is and you know what I mean, like if you see some extraordinary shot in a place like Joffre, which is just like an exquisite location with, you know, beautiful mountains, emerald waters, you kind of want to go there.
Jordan: What kinds of scenes did you see or hear about at Joffre I guess in particular when you were reporting this story? Because it doesn’t seem like what I would traditionally associate with just going out and getting back to nature.
Joel: Yeah, well, it’s busy, it’s very frantic. So I was there at like 8:30 a.m. on like Labor Day weekend, and you know it was packed. The parking lot was full, you had kind of some overflow parking. On the weekend that I was there, there was actually RCMP there trying to discourage people from parking along the shoulder of the highway. And then, you know, there’s people turning up to the park, and they’re turning up with coffee cups, with take out, walking up, enjoying the views. But certain parts of the trail get really bottle necked. So you know, you turn up at like the second leg and, you know, it’s kind of like just a big group of people taking selfies with selfie sticks. And, you know, it’s not necessarily what you think of when you think of like a back country park. But, you know, this is just kind of what it’s become in the last few years.
Jordan: What kind of dangers can these big crowds pose to the parks or what kind of dangers does this behavior pose to I guess the people doing it?
Joel: You know I think the big concern with Joffre in particular is the garbage problem. I think a lot of people they are coming up are kind of expecting the same amenities that they’d find in like a city park so they’d expect to find garbage cans but when they get up there, there’s no garbage cans. So there’s been kind of like ongoing problems with garbage, which is obviously like a wildlife attractant. Just last year, for example, a couple hikers found like 40 pounds worth of garbage, just like hidden off the trail, and, you know, like everything from like takeout, to old you know beer cans or whatever, they ended up like putting a photo on like, Inst, or on Facebook and Instagram and like it went viral, and basically they were just calling for, you know, like people to you know, treat these places with respect, and you know, I think most people do. It’s kind of like the outliers, they would actually throw garbage away, but you know it is definitely a concern.
Jordan: What kinds of stories have you heard from park workers or other people? Or even just from fellow nature goers about this kind of behaviour?
Joel: Something that was really interesting that came out was a letter that the RCMP sent to the province regarding Joffre and basically the head of the Pemberton detachment, which is like the closest town to the park, basically saying the situation with the parking has gotten really out of hand. On busy days there when the parking lot fills up you’ll have people just park alongside the highway. It’s obviously like, really dangerous because it’s like this winding kind of mountain highway, and you’ll have people you know, walking kind of four abreast along the highway. The head of the RCMP was basically saying that, you know, he showed up one weekend in August like trying to, like, discourage people from parking on the highway, and he was just, like, overwhelmed with the numbers like people were ignoring him, and I think he called it like mass driver anarchy and said that he almost got hit at one point and he was basically, like, very blunt in his language, saying things like, you know, if there aren’t more controls put in place, there’s literally going to be like someone is going to get hit or there’s gonna be…. or a car is going to get hit.
Jordan: I think there is something about the intersection of things we usually consider, like untouched by technology, and then the technology driven tourism that rubs some people who have for lack of a better term I guess been down since the beginning with these secluded parks. What do you think is driving…. or what do you think their reaction will be? And what have they been doing to try to you know, I don’t want to say keep people out, but keep this off the radar, at least the places that haven’t been discovered yet.
Joel: One thing that people are doing now is like it’s like a really kind of faux pas to geo locate certain places. You know, people recognize that this is a problem, this issue of like geo locating certain issues cause it makes it so easy for people to kind of figure out where they are. But another thing is, I think it’s kind of interesting about this whole thing is a lot of the people that have been enjoying the back country spaces or places for a long time, are really you know, like they’re coming from a place of privilege in a sense that they have been exposed to this stuff their whole life, right? So y know, it’s people that their parents may have taken them hiking as kids, or they joined like the outdoor club in college, and they kind of like acquired the skills and the sense of, like, how to act in the backcountry kind of through doing it, you know, from a young age. But now this is the kind of point I wanted to make it is now you have, like an influx of people that have never been kind of exposed to that, so the expectation has to be different. So it’s kind of incumbent on the park administrators or the province is managing the back country hike or places to help educate people on the importance of a kind of conservation ethic.
Jordan: It’s really interesting that you made that point because my next question was going to be, why is this a bad thing? I mean, we should want Canadians to go out and explore Canada’s wondrous nature and to see these places, and experience them, and so in some sense, it feels a little bad to be complaining about people going to their national parks.
Joel: Totally. And I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon in the piece. I think what I just wanted to illustrate that it has kind of become an issue and that their kind of needs to be more of a kind of an infrastructure around it to teach everyone that comes into the park conservation ethic because, you know, if you don’t have that, you’re going to have these kind of ongoing issues and not just with trash, you know, like there’s being issues with, like illegal campfires and stuff like when there’s campfire bands and people will have campfires, which is a huge danger for wildfire. I think that this interest in the parks is amazing. It kind of has to come along with the kind of proper investment in front line workers in kind of educational materials that are going to actually get through to people.
Jordan: Are the people coming to these parks in such numbers really interested in communing with the nature of them or are they there for a selfie?
Joel: Yeah, I mean that’s like the $1,000,000 question. I think a lot of locals would kind of look down on the way people are interacting with nature. Just because it does, you know, it does look a bit odd when you go to a park and everyone’s standing in the same place, by the same lake, and basically trying to recreate the same photo. You know, in my view, I think that, like, you know, people are enjoying these parks when they’re going, but they’re just kind of doing it in their own way, and I think for a lot of people, you know, like social media for myself to a certain extent as well, it’s like it’s a part of the experience, you know what I mean? Like, if you’re doing something, why not document it?
Jordan: I mean, there are a lot of businesses that exists solely to make a profit on people who want to get that quick social media snapshot like there are private planes that sit on the tarmac so you can take your selfies inside them right? Like this is a business now.
Joel: Yeah, it’s funny how people are okay with having the same the same photo like at Joffre at the second lake, there’s like this log that kind of extends into the water. When I was there, there was like, literally like a lineup of about a half an hour of people just waiting to be able to walk onto this log and like, have their photo taken, and the photos are really beautiful because they’re kind of like standing kind of suspended over this emerald water and there’s a forest and, you know, this huge cirque in the background. You know, I can totally see why people want to do it. But it is kind of odd that people want to recreate the same images.
Jordan: What our parks actually doing to deal with this influx? Is there anything proposed, anything in place yet?
Joel: So B C. Parks, so it’s the province that manages Joffre Lakes Park. They’re developing like a visitor use strategy specifically for Joffre. They put out a survey, you know, we’re going to see it kind of released, actually, for this summer, but it sounds like everything is on the table, like they’re looking at everything from like charging for parking to implementing a reservation system. So with the reservation system, you literally need to like book when you want to visit the park that would charge you like a day use fee as well, and this is something like we haven’t seen in any BC parks ever, at least the reservation system, so that would be like a bit of a shift. But it definitely tells you, like they’re taking this seriously. They’re also…. it looks like they’re going to implement a shuttle, so that’s going to hopefully stop people from parking alongside the highway and they’re working closely with, like the local First Nation. They’ve actually created, like two positions for members of the Lillooet first nation to actually kind of like be like front line workers which is really important because at the end of the day, when you go to that park, people aren’t really reading the signage, the signage is kind of boiler plate signage, all in English that most people just walk right by. It’s the park rangers that are really kind of putting the fire’s out as they see them you know what I mean? Letting people know there’s no garbage in the park, and not to feed the wildlife.
Jordan: Do you see this kind of trend continuing to worsen in terms of more visitors who don’t understand the parks? Or is there a way that we can reach kind of either an education level where the extra visitors do know how to follow the rules or find a way to control crowds?
Joel: I think that in the long run things are going to get better. I think that eventually there’s gonna have to be the investments in these places to actually invest in the front line staff and the educational programming and people will pick it up. But I think that right now there just isn’t the kind of money in the system to fund that. But this is becoming more and more of an issue, and I think the province is gonna have to kind of come through with the proper investments to it.
Jordan: So what is I guess the worst case scenario for parks that get overrun like this?
Joel: So there was…. it’s not a park, but it’s kind of like a…. it’s on Crown Lab. But it’s like, you know, there was; It’s like a recreational area, and it’s a hot spring it was a couple hours away from Joffre, and basically, what happened to it was, you know, it kind of blew up, and people were, unfortunately throwing out trash. The trash ended up attracting bears to the area, and the province came through and shut it down for the summer indefinitely. So that, I think is the big concern for a lot of people is like, you know, are these backcountry spot’s going to be, like discovered? There’s gonna be a major influx to them, and then there’s gonna be problems associated with that, and then the province will come through and actually shut them right down. So some of the concern feels a bit like frivolous like oh like, you know, these people aren’t enjoying nature in the right way, so to speak. But on the other hand, there is actually like legitimate concern that, you know, like these places could be eventually shut down.
Jordan: Thanks, Joel.
Joel: Thank you.
Jordan: Joel Bard wrote this piece for The Walrus. That’s The Big Story today. For more from us, head to thebigstorypodcast.ca, check out our old episodes and our new logo. You can also find us on Twitter @thebigstoryfpn, and in your favorite podcast application, whichever one that might be. Please rate us, leave us a review, tell us what you think. Claire Broussard is the lead producer of The Big Story. Ryan Clark and Stephanie Phillips, associate producers, and Annalise Nielsen, digital editor, and I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. I’m your host, thanks for listening. We’ll talk on Tuesday. Enjoy the long weekend.
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