Nightline: Overwhelmed by “Insta-crowds”

NANPA member and regular blog contributor Jerry Ginsberg was a a consultant to and interviewed on ABC’s Nightline program last night (July 29th) in a feature that examined the balance between access and protection at precious natural places, like the Wave, Zion, Horseshoe Bend and other unique, but fragile, locations.
NANPA member and regular blog contributor Jerry Ginsberg was a a consultant to and interviewed on ABC’s Nightline program last night (July 29th) in a feature that examined the balance between access and protection at precious natural places, like the Wave, Zion, Horseshoe Bend and other unique, but fragile, locations.

Story by Jerry Ginsberg

As some confirmed night owls and insomniacs reading this may have noticed, I recently appeared on ABC TV’s Nightline.

Aside from simply showcasing my good looks (Ha!!), the story made a serious and thoughtful point.

Social media, and especially Instagram, have contributed very significantly to over-crowding in our National Parks and other federal lands originally set aside for their ability to help us re-connect with Nature.

Once upon a time, the majority of visitors to these special places came yearning for some elbow room and real wilderness. Some still do but, these days, many once pristine places are flooded with folks who superficially click off a selfie or two and feel that they’ve seen everything.

For example:

  • The very popular but compact Canyon of the Virgin River in Utah’s Zion National Park has been forced to implement a mandatory bus system to handle the huge numbers (more than 4.5 million) of visitors.
  • Once wild, largely unknown and rarely visited, the stunning Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River just outside Page, AZ, has become overrun with an estimated 2.2 Million visitors per year. Now administered jointly by the city of Page and the National Park Service, the crowds have created massive issues around litter, waste and safety. Several times over the years, I have approached the edge of its straight drop and eyed the severely undercut sandstone precipice offering the best viewpoint while silently wondering, “Is this the day that it finally collapses?” Each time, I answered myself with, “Nah!” and went confidently out on the very edge toting my heavy tripod and pack. Now, after several deaths from falls (reputedly not all of them accidental) at this exact spot, the authorities have erected a railing to restrain the crowds. I am certainly glad that I had the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful place when it was not so congested.
  • The now famous Wave, deep in the Coyote Buttes section of the Paria-Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, has recently become a “must-do” spot for a flood tide of Instagrammers. In fairness, reaching the Wave is not a hike for the faint of heart. It takes a real commitment and some serious effort to reach this hallowed spot. Nevertheless, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a division of the Interior Department has been inundated with applications for the hiking permits required to enter the Buttes. As a result, officials have announced plans to increase the number of permits from just 20 to up to 96 per day.

On one hand, some believe that these places must be protected from rampant over-crowding. On the other, such national treasures have been set aside “for the enjoyment of the people.” My role here is to share my experiences with you and simply report – so I will not offer an editorial opinion.  Perhaps Mike Herder, district manager for the Arizona Strip District, BLM, put it best in the Nightline story: “Can we, in fact, increase the number [of people] without tipping that balance where solitude is lost and it just becomes a line of people?”

I can only wonder what the guardian angel of conservation and protection of our natural treasures, President Theodore Roosevelt, would think of all this.

For a limited time, see the video at https://abc.go.com/shows/nightline/ and look for the July 29th episode segment titled “Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, other national parks overwhelmed by Insta-crowds.”