How National Parks Are Faring in the Age of Instagram

July 26, 2019, 12:00 PM UTC
Ethan Miller­—Getty Images

Horseshoe Bend, a spectacular overlook of red sandstone and river just outside Grand Canyon National Park, was once a serene picnic spot. Now social media famous, it is attracting thousands more visitors in a mad push for the perfect selfie. Meanwhile, so-called influencers are ’gramming the park’s fields and fragile meadows—often while they trample flowers or bother the wildlife.

While park officials have investigated and even prosecuted some badly behaved social media users, the official line is a positive one. “We see social media and technology as an opportunity to help share public lands and the National Parks with a broader audience,” says chief spokesman Jeremy Barnum, adding that the parks have been expanding Wi-Fi and cellular access, in part for safety reasons but also to help people share special moments. The service has put out a guide on taking safe selfies, following several untimely deaths involving photos and falling. Others are trying a more direct approach. Vigilante online accounts have sprung up, aiming to shame social media miscreants into changing their ways—partly by urging brands to drop sponsorships of influencers who abuse nature. 

A version of this article appears in the August 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “National Parks in the Age of Instagram.”

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