Say Hello to the Outdoor Advocacy Project

Hola advocates,

The outdoor community has a deep responsibility to take care of and give back to the land–and each other. This is the truest thing I know. So, I dreamed up the Outdoor Advocacy Project.

It’s more of a commitment, really–to stewardship, sustainability, political action, community, public and tribal lands.

The outdoors are at a crux moment. There are more visitors to public lands now than ever, and with each new pair of boots on the trails comes a greater impact on the outdoors. So how do we turn each new outdoor enthusiast into an advocate?

The resources needed to empower the outdoor community on these topics are largely already in existence–built by non-profits, policy wonks, scientists, conservation organizations, and community leaders. For many, it is our life’s work.

But there is also an undeniable gap between these crucial resources and the hands of the outdoorists who need them most. Outdoor Advocacy Project seeks to shrink that gap, collecting all the tools scattered around our industry and digesting them into accessible resources that prioritize scientific data, inclusive perspectives, and actionable learning.

This will be our life’s work, and it will never end. But perhaps in an endless pursuit of inspiring a movement to do good, we’ll leave it better than we found it.

I hope you’ll:
– Poke around the website, and let us know what resources you want to see brought to life next!
– Connect with Outdoor Advocacy Project on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook
– Spread the love and share the launch!

I believe the outdoor community has a deep responsibility to take care of and give back to the land–and each other. I believe we have the power to do good, and to demand better, together. Let’s do this, y’all.

Gracias familia,

Katie Boué
Founder, Outdoor Advocacy Project

ED-OP: Let’s Talk about Geotagging

Note: This piece originally appeared here on TheMorningFresh.com on 5/6/19. Since writing this educational opinion piece, writer Katie Boué has expanded her writing on geotagging to an informative piece you can read here on the REI Co-op Journal.

Photo by Oscar Sutton on Unsplash

First, I invite you to check your current opinions (read: ego) on geotagging. Just shelve ‘em for a moment, hit the pause button, give yourself 10 minutes of reading and considering before you interject with a “well, actually…” Here’s the thing about this post: you aren’t going to leave with a solid answer of to geotag or not to geotag.

So what is geotagging? According to our friends at Wikipedia,

Geotagging or GeoTagging, is the process of adding geographical identification metadata to various media such as a geotagged photograph or video, websites, SMS messages, QR Codes[1] or RSS feeds and is a form of geospatial metadata. This data usually consists of latitude and longitude coordinates, though they can also include altitude, bearing, distance, accuracy data, and place names, and perhaps a time stamp.

For our purposes, we’re mainly talking about the geotag feature on Instagram (and social media at large). According to SproutSocial, “an Instagram [geotag]  is the specific location, down to the latitude and longitude, of where you’ve stored your Instagram content. Geolocations are gathered from the physical location of your mobile device, which allows users to store or tag their content to those coordinates.” Geotags are a way to gain visibility amongst like-minded communities, a way to give mountains back their Indigenous names, a little digital log of the places you’ve been from restaurants and cities to trailheads and summits.

The idea of imbalance between public lands and visitors isn’t new–rewind to the 1940s and you’ll see reference to the same idea of “rapid growth in the number of Americans hitting the trail” (source). If you’re reading this, you’re probably an outdoorist, so you get it. The great outdoors is, well, great, so it’s no surprise that more and more people want to get out there.

Here’s the thing, more than 500 million people visit public lands annually (source), with over 330 million visits to national park sites in 2017 (source)–and blaming Instagram and geotagging for an influx of people at trailheads isn’t going to solve the accompanying issues of overuse. To blame a geotag is to eschew the deeper, critical issues our lands are facing right now. To say “Instagram is ruining the outdoors” is to water down our current environmental crisis with cheap sentiments of bitterness and old guard. Is social media playing a role in the current issues we’re facing? Absolutely. But it’s just one teat on an udder full of problems that need solutions (like the crisis happening at climbing crags across the country).

Further, I wondered: do we have any data or research that indicates geotagging and social media as the root of all outdoor evil? The short answer is: no. There is a distinct lack of science behind all of this, though I did find a few studies that surprised me.

Here are the results from a hiker survey conducted by the Adirondack Council, asking folks on the trail “why did you decide to hike today?” Note the least popular response:

Hmm….

The debate around geotagging has reached every corner of the internet from National Geographic to the New York Times. The Leave No Trace center issued new guidance specifically addressing social media. This is a topic that deserves nuance, as is seen within this Outside Magazine article that both cites Instagram as a reason folks fall to their death at Horseshoe Bend and also recognizes that “the best way to protect public lands is to have advocates. Often the best advocates are the folks taking photos and sharing them on Facebook and Instagram.”

Either way, I wonder: why are we blaming Instagram solely for the popularization of the outdoors? It’s not just Instagram y’all. The outdoors are being promoted in film, guidebooks, through e-mail newsletters, by tourism groups, by motivational speakers, in commercials–it’s everywhere. Is it just easy for us to scapegoat Instagram instead of taking the energy to consider how big and complex this beast is?

During a coffee date with my dear friend Bri Madia, who is infamous for her strong stance against geotagging, she posed a question I hadn’t fully considered: “What I want to know is, why do people geotag?” So, naturally, I asked my community–on both sides of the aisle. First, I polled on Instagram stories, do you or don’t you geotag (including general/regional tags)? There was a fairly even split erring on the side of ‘do’ with 1107 vs. 825 ‘donts’.
*note, this is not intended to be deep scientific findings, just a pulse of my community, don’t get it twisted.

WHY DO WE GEOTAG? (57%)

The overwhelming sentiment in the pro-tagging camp was around the idea of sharing the experiences we have with others. “To share with the community” and “to encourage, to inform, to let people know about the amazing places right in their backyard.” Folks from places like the southeast, Kansas and Texas expressed a desire to help their neighbors discover that they’ve got rad outdoor spaces they might not know existed (“Coming from Ohio, most Ohio folks have no idea how much great hiking there is!”). Some do it to provide updated imagery of trail conditions.

Karen Ramos (@naturechola) summed up the pro side eloquently:

“Because I don’t believe in using conservation as an excuse for exclusion.”

Folks cited Instagram as a resource they used when they were first exploring public lands and planning trips, and use geotagging as a way to pay it forward. Heck, I just searched Placencia, Belize geotags last night to vibe out my trip in a few weeks. While Instagram provides a pinpoint on a map to a place that’s been geotagged, I wonder how many people simply drive straight there vs. how many use that as a starting point to begin their research on a place. I found no conclusive data on this topic, despite many strong opinions.

Many people also ‘fessed up to doing it for self-serving purposes, to remember the places they had visited, to get more likes, or “to brag about the hard hikes I accomplished.” An interesting note is that many folks acknowledged having small platforms or private accounts where their tags had less visibility.

WHY DON’T WE GEOTAG? (43%)

I’ll start with the legitimate responses–and this one I personally identify with: “because I don’t need internet strangers knowing where I am.” I had this conversation again and again with women in my community. I travel solo often, and usually haunt the same spots because they are safe and comfortable for me. So, I don’t geotag those areas, and if someone asks me about it, I’m honest about that. As Bri Madia puts it,

“I grew up in a time when you didn’t tell strangers on the internet where you were. I’ll recommend guidebooks, map apps, and resources but I’m not going to draw you a map on how to find me in the middle of nowhere.”

I personally have had a number of creepy run-ins with folks who ‘found me’ via Instagram, so I’m careful about sharing my location (I don’t post IG stories until I’ve left a location now).

There are the other, more dire instances where geotagging is undeniably harmful too–like when it can endanger rhinos being sought by poachers. I also spoke to a woman in Big Cypress, Florida who cited orchid poaching as an issue perpetuated by geotagging. A number of scientists and ecologists chimed in with similar thoughts about needing to protect certain flora, fauna, and archeological sites.

From there, the responses devolve. The anti-geotagging responses echoed ideas of “to keep it a secret, not everyone deserves to know,” and “can’t trust the general public with wild, untouched places.” There was also “I want to keep my special places secret,” and my favorite for honesty, “I hate people.”

Folks, if you are “protecting places from people who don’t deserve to go there,” you are engaging in something called gatekeeping. (Please see Melanin Basecamp’s #1 reason why they are pro-geotagging.) Gatekeeping is a self-appointed decision on who does or doesn’t have the right to access information, community, or identity. And I pose this question to you: what exactly qualifies you as the person who gets to decide who is or isn’t deserving of ‘your’ outdoor spaces? At what point did you graduate from average outdoorsy person to almighty keeper of nature? Did you forget that there’s no such thing as “pristine, untouched wilderness” because as my friend Dr. Len Necefer reminds us: Indigenous people have been moving across, living on, cultivating, and celebrating that land way before settlers forcibly removed Native people from it and declared it wild.

Gatekeeping isn’t cool. It isn’t okay, and if you’re feeling a little uncomfortable because you realized maybe you’re being a gatekeeper–I invite you to consider changing your mindset around how you “protect” the places you love. I don’t always tag the specific locations I’m in, often opting for the general park or forest name–but I will always engage in a conversation and share my resources if someone DMs me about a place. The outdoors is not mine to keep (nor is it yours).

Aside from the exclusionary bullshit behind being anti-geotagging, my number one qualm with folks who gripe about Instagram ruining the outdoors is a lack of solutions for the problem. A lot of “get off my lawn” and not enough “here’s what I think we can do to make it better.” Scroll down to the 4th point in Melanin Basecamp’s recent geotagging article, and bam, solutions. Whether you’re for or against geotagging, we can all agree that there is a massive influx of people getting outdoors, and we lack the infrastructure to accommodate the boom.

Do I think everyone deserves access to the outdoors? Hell yes. Do I also believe that once we hit carrying capacities for trails and ecosystems, we need to start implementing permitting systems and quotas? Absolutely. Back to that study from the Adirondack Council, dive into page 2 and you’ll see that hikers largely support management intervention, trail closures, etc.

After all of this, my thoughts on geotagging evolved and I realized: the problem isn’t that geotagging provides too much information, it’s that geotagging doesn’t provide enough. My original sentiments erred on the side of “geotagging shortcuts the educational aspect of learning about a place” – so what if geotagging supplemented that? What if, at the top of public lands geotag pages was a quick wiki-style bite of information that could offer information about whether a spot is illegal to access, if there are sensitive cryptobiotic soils not to step on, whether an area is prone to flash floods or avalanches, if there’s an archeological site it’s illegal to disturb, a warning not to crush the wildflowers. What if the users aren’t the problem, but the system of geotagging itself is what’s broken?

Further, if used well, geotagging can be a tool to promote advocacy and spread information. If you do choose to geotag, I believe the onus is on you to provide resources and education. When tagging a spot in Moab (whether you tag Grandstaff Trailhead or just Moab), include a quick blurb about how delicate cryptobiotic soil is and why it’s important to stay on the trail. Offer a quick ‘and remember to practice Leave No Trace!’ or remind folks “this spot is 30 miles down a dirt road with no access to water, and you have to carry your poo out!” You hold the power to spread advocacy, and you have the power to use an Instagram post to spark positive stewardship amongst your community.

Instagram and geotagging are what you make it. Are there “influencers” out there who make a profit off public lands without stewarding them, or taking any action to give back to the places they benefit from? Absolutely. Who has the power to support that or demand that they do better? You do. (Oh yes, this idea of the ethics of being an outdoor professional/influencer is a topic I plan on traveling down the rabbit hole of in the future…)

And folks, I do truly understand that there are some places that are so special, so spiritual, so personally sacred that we (read: our egos, and that’s okay) truly can’t bear the thought of sharing the location with the internet–so, don’t post pictures of them online. If it’s truly about the sanctity of the place, and not about your ego, don’t post it.

In a report by the Center for Western Priorities, the group concludes a study on public land visitation by saying “Policymakers should steer clear of policies that limit public access to U.S. public lands. Instead, America’s elected officials should look for ways to maintain and expand outdoor opportunities by boosting budgets for land management agencies and guaranteeing permanent funding for conservation and public lands access. Hundreds of millions of visitors each year depend on it.” Replace ‘policymakers’ with ‘Instagrammers–and social media haters’ and you’ve got my feelings on this whole debate summed up.


NOTE: THIS IS AN EDUCATED OPINION PIECE, NOT AN OBJECTIVE RESOURCE. As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail team@outdooradvocacy.com to write your own ed-op on this topic.

Katie Boué
Katie Boué

 Katie Boué is a Cuban-American outdoor advocate, writer, communication strategist, and founder of the Outdoor Advocacy Project. She believes that every outdoorist has a responsibility to serve our public lands and protect our planet.

Q&A with Katie Boué: Solo Travel as a Womxn

This piece originally appeared here on TheMorningFresh.com on 11/19/18 after author Katie Boué completed traveling, primarily via road trip, to all 50 states.

Since my first 33 day cross-country solo trip after a bad break-up, traveling alone has been one of my favorite ways to adventure. I’ve slept in gas station rest stops, remote forest campsites,  cheap motels, KOAs off the highway–you name it, I’ve stayed there alone. Most recently, I hit the road to tick off my last 8 states on my quest to hitting all 50–my first solo trip with a dog in tow. You all had a lot of questions about traveling solo, so I wanted to create a resource to answer ’em all.

Before I dive into the nitty gritty of solo trips, dealing with anxiety + safety, finding places to stay, and more, I want to address my privilege as a solo female traveler. I am a queer Latinx, but I am totally white-and-straight-passing–and that creates an ability to travel with a level of inherent ease that is not a given for solo women of color. That said, if any non-white women have specific advice for solo travel for WOC, please leave a comment and I will add it to this guide as a resource.

THE #1 QUESTION: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH SAFETY?

I received this question in every iteration possible, especially in regards to overnight stays alone and hiking alone. There are many steps I take to prioritize safety when I travel, but the most important idea is: I always trust my gut. It doesn’t happen often, but when I get a bad feeling, I boogie, no questions asked. It doesn’t happen often, but if my gut tells me to go (which is very different from my general this-is-scary anxiety, which I’ll address later), I go. While Spaghetti and I were hiking on a paved path at Sleeping Bear Dunes, we heard a pop! pop! pop! in the near distance, and I remembered that it’s hunting season. We weren’t wearing any bright colors, and I felt uncomfortable, so we left.

I make a habit out of being hyper observant. At a trailhead, I scan all the cars in the parking lot and totally judge them based on bumper stickers, etc. On the trail, I keep mental notes on the folks I pass and sometimes tag along behind other groups to feel an added sense of security. In cities, I avoid dark streets, and prefer to be in my hotel at night. When I camp, I prefer to do so in places where I have cell service–or I’ll bring a satellite phone in case of emergency (most in case of car trouble vs. ‘safety’). Also when camping or sleeping in my car, I always have my car keys within reach and a clear path to the driver’s seat so I can hop in and speed off if I need to.

I turn on ‘Find My Friends’ on my iPhone and allow both parents and my partner to see where I am at all times. This makes them feel better, and it makes me feel better too. And when it comes to social media, I only post content that shares my location after I’ve left that place.

Get yourself some pepper spray. I also always carry a Buck knife my dad gave me many years ago on my first solo trip, and often sleep with it under my pillow. I chatted with a few women who have taken self-defense classes, and I highly recommend that path if you want to cultivate confidence in your ability to protect yourself. As for guns, yes, I did once consider getting one before my four-month solo road trip–but quickly realized that guns make me uncomfortable and I didn’t have confidence that I’d be able to use one to effectively defend myself.

RELATED: WHATS THE SCARIEST PART OF TRAVELING SOLO AS A WOMAN?

Men.

An uncomfortable subject to address because I am not asking to be harassed when I wear make up, nor is any woman who chooses to wear whatever she pleases, but: I also often don’t wear make-up while traveling alone. Men tend to see any solo female traveler as an invitation for suggestive comments, so I often find myself not presenting myself the way I want to be while traveling solo, purely in an attempt to deter men who apparently cannot control themselves in the presence of women. Men, do better so I can comfortably wear my eyeliner and leggings while traveling solo kthanks.

DO YOU DECIDE WHERE YOU’RE GOING TO STAY AHEAD OF TIME, OR DO YOU WING IT?

Both. I spend a lot of time on Google Maps figuring out the drive times to various distances, scope out options for where to stay in each spot, then I’ll either settle on a destination for the day, or just start to wing it. I always try to keep it flexible so I can go with the flow depending on how tired I am, how much time I spend at pit stops, etc. Giving yourself options and knowing that you have ’em helps cultivate that solo traveler confidence.

WHAT ARE YOU TRAVEL ESSENTIALS?

I want to do a dedicated post on my must-have road trip essentials, but briefly:

  • A paper map. Technology will fail you, so I always road trip with my trusty road atlas.
  • My use-less-plastic kit: a giant Hydroflask water bottle, a Hydroflask growler that is always full of water for back up, reusable utensils + straw, a tupperwear for leftovers when eating out, and a few different sized zip-lock bags that I wash + reuse.
  • My go-to Ursa Major skin care kit: their balm, face wash, and wipes for when I can’t wash my face.
  • My ‘tech’ kit where I keep: all my device cables + plugs, my Garmin watch, a collection of Goal Zero mini chargers, etc.
  • An iPhone tri-pod so I can take selfies. No shame.
  • Blankets, all the blankets. And a full-size pillow.
  • Whatever creature comforts will make you feel more comfortable and confident on the road. It’s a road trip, so you don’t have to pack light. If it makes you feel better, bring it.

HOW DO YOU KEEP ENTERTAINED ON LONG RIDES? HOW DO YOU STAY AWAKE?

I love driving solo–I used to want to be a semi-truck driver. As long as there’s light out, I can drive forever. I listen to podcasts, livestream my local NPR station from home, jam to the trashy Miami music I don’t usually get to listen to, and use the time to reflect.

I find that once I hit a groove of driving, the time flies quickly. I also stop whenever I want to, and try to break up long stretches with short hikes. When I stop for gas or to pee, I always do a little lap around the car doing knee-highs and shaking my arms above my head like a wild person to keep the blood flowing.

As for staying awake: I have realized that I don’t do well driving at night, primarily because I’m night-blind and can’t see super well in the dark. So, I don’t drive at night. The beauty of solo travel is, you’re running on your own agenda, so you can stop whenever you want. When I get tired on the road, I stop.

HOW DO YOU STAY ORGANIZED?

I don’t. The chaos tends to spread quickly on a road trip, so I use a pitstop a day to reel it in and clean up the mess. I use a lot of Topo Designs travel bags in various sizes and try to have a place where everything belongs.

WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART OF TRAVELING SOLO?

It’s expensive. Traveling with a partner means  gas is split, park entry fees are split, hotel rooms are split, everything is a bit more affordable. When I’m solo, all the costs are mine to bear. Since I stayed in hotels each night of this trip due to the snow and winter conditions, I made peace with the reality that it was going to be way more expensive than my usual camping + dirtbaggin’ trips.

DO YOU GET LONELY? HOW DO YOU GET OVER MISSING YOUR PARTNER? 

Solo travel is lonely, but I love it for that. I am an introvert, and thrive on alone time. Lean into that idea, and fully embrace the spirit of solitude. Knowing that it’s for a finite amount of time really helps me dig into the rad feeling of being alone. As for missing my partner, I of course miss him, but he travels so frequently that we’re both used to be apart. Plus, time spent apart and focusing on our independent pursuits only strengthens the relationship.

LET’S TALK ABOUT DOGS + SOLO TRAVEL

To be honest, traveling with Spaghetti doesn’t make me feel significantly more safe than just purely traveling alone. She’s a 25 lb. muppet with a soft bark and a tendency to get really scared, so it’s not like she’s going to attack anyone. She does provide excellent company and make me feel less alone.

Solo travel with a dog is harder than I expected, especially during this most recent winter trip. All outdoor seating is closed for the season, so there wasn’t a single restaurant I could eat at with her. Instead, I ate most of my meals in the car or in our hotel rooms. And since we weren’t camping, I had to find dog friendly lodging each night. Pro tip: Motel 6 allows dogs and doesn’t charge an extra fee for ’em! 

When I had to leave Spaghetti in the car (never for more than 30 minutes on this trip), I made sure all food was packed away. The one time I didn’t, she stole a slice of pizza. She has separation anxiety we’re still working on, so having to stay with her all the time did impact my ability to do a lot of things. And traveling with a dog completely changed my relationship with National Parks. They’re inherently not-dog-friendly (for good reason), so I found myself spending less time in them.

AND LASTLY, MY FAVORITE READER QUESTION: HAVE YOU HAD TO PEE IN A WATER BOTTLE YET? 

Yes, many times. Ladies, I prefer to pee into something like a large yogurt container because my aim is not very good. You can also get a device like the She-Wee to pee with, but I get fussy about the idea of needing a penis-mimicking device to complete a function my vagina is perfectly capable of handling on its own, so I pee into yogurt containers instead, ha!


NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE BASED ON PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE AUTHOR! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail team@outdooradvocacy.com to write your own.

Katie Boué
Katie Boué

 Katie Boué is a Cuban-American outdoor advocate, writer, communication strategist, – and the founder of the outdoor advocacy project. She believes that every outdoorist has a responsibility to serve our public lands and protect our planet.