Overcrowding in the Outdoors: How Tech Can Help
With millions of additional Americans participating in outdoor recreation in 2021 and beyond, modernized infrastructure and informed beginners will prove essential to the health of our wildest natural places
Long Lines at Grand Teton National Park, WY - Photo Credit: Michael Vi
In search of physical and mental escape amid COVID-19 restrictions, record numbers of people have been adventuring into the outdoors. In just the past year, 80% of Americans have engaged in outdoor recreation during the pandemic, 32% of which reported doing so for the first time. This is great news—people are rediscovering a passion for the outdoors in unprecedented ways, creating a new wave of adventurers.
However, this ongoing trend introduces some concerning challenges to the well-being of our natural resources. The high numbers of new adventurers—millions and millions of extra participants in camping, hiking, and freshwater fishing—in addition to the rapidly growing effects of global climate change, make it crucial that participants understand how to protect themselves, others around them, and our environment.
Struggling to keep up with skyrocketing demand, National Parks like Yosemite, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain have implemented reservation systems to restrict visitations and allow the park grounds to recover. Others that have yet to introduce such a system end up seeing hours-long lines to enter (if you even make it in, as some like Arches National Park in Utah reach full capacity even before 9 a.m.!). Residents that live near these sites are understandably upset at the sudden changes taking place around them: increased pollution, dumped human waste around their community, vandalism, illegal parking, illegal camping, and damaged grounds are only some of many stressors they face. Efforts have certainly been made to maintain these grounds, with states like New York establishing programs to recruit volunteers to eliminate trash at trailheads and Oregon cleaning trash and biohazards from 67 of its Portland-area campsites earlier this year. Yet when faced with an overwhelming amount of new adventurers amidst cuts to park staff and budgets, it is clear that the existing infrastructure of the outdoor recreation community cannot sustain this trend without the assistance of those who enjoy it.
Parking overflow at Yosemite National Park, CA - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
Yet the problem with overcrowding at National Parks and more environmental pollution points to a bigger, overarching issue: the lack of proper infrastructure in outdoor recreational resources. When embarking on an outdoor trip, new adventurers look to plan their day rather haphazardly, relying primarily on word of mouth to determine when, where, and how to go. If online research is done, it ends up in a view that is familiar to most outdoor recreationists: numerous open tabs, several random blogs, and an overload of information that is near-impossible to retain. It also requires the foresight to plan ahead of time in order to ensure your ideal trip—nearly half of all camping trips are planned within one week of departure. This can be burdensome to arrange, with no freedom to spontaneously embark on adventures. Additionally, when planning a last-minute trip, the extra thirty minutes spent searching for guidebooks or route details in the morning can cost you that perfect sunset or extra time spent with your family… or even cause you to contribute to park overcrowding.
As newer generations of adventurers seek different experiences and the options for outdoor recreation become more diverse, a dependable tech-driven infrastructure could alleviate many of these concerns, and ensure the safety of both recreationists and the environment. Information and resources on how to recreate responsibly, safely, and ethically are definitely prevalent across the internet. However, it is the lack of consolidated, equitable, standardized access to accurate and relevant information about outdoor recreational activities that plays a consequential role in the environmental harm that we see today.
Enormous crowds at Zion National Park, UT - Photo Credit: Kristi Blokhin
To the detriment of all those who enjoy it, this outdated infrastructure is causing obvious consequences to our natural resources—the overcrowding of National Parks is only one piece of evidence of ongoing environmental degradation. By building and maintaining a collective repository of resources created by a community of well-informed, experienced, and reliable outdoor recreationists, Pathloom, the first all-in-one app for outdoor trip planning, can help diminish the gap of inequitable access and education in the outdoor community. We are fortunate enough to have the resources, knowledge, communal support, and technology to be able to assist adventurers in making their trip-planning experience more convenient, and beneficial to the environment as well. With less time spent planning your trip, more time becomes available to recreate responsibly, and perhaps make an individual difference for our natural treasures.
This issue must not be overlooked as the nation increasingly discusses the end of the pandemic. While this paradigm shift in how people are vacationing may have helped boost the popularity of outdoor recreational activities, the core problem of inequitable, inaccessible information in an industry that prides itself on inclusivity does not go away. While this problem may appear colossal and impossible to approach, individual efforts can help make a tangible difference in our outdoor community.
Finding solitude at Rocky Mountain National Park, CO - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
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Pathloom is a Bay Area-based technology startup on a mission to get more people outdoors, more often by reimagining the way people discover the outdoors.