Meetup Hiking Groups and Exceeding Group Size Limits on Public Lands
***Posted to the @PublicLandsHateYou Instagram account on 11/1/2019***
Public lands are for everyone to enjoy, regardless of skill level. We were ALL beginners at some point.
Historically, many people gained exposure to the outdoors through groups hikes organized by local shops, trail clubs, or conservation organizations that were led by knowledgeable leaders. Today, Facebook groups and sites like “Meetup” have put a new age spin on group hikes, allowing anyone to organize an event and invite thousands of people with a few keystrokes.
I’ve run across a number of these large groups on hikes, as I know many of you probably have. The organizers of these events likely have the best of intentions, but good intentions do not always equal a positive outcome.
Large groups are not inherently bad. The issue arises when these groups exceed group size limits, ignore LNT principles, and disregard basic trail etiquette. These groups can often be observed barging past other users, walking side by side on narrow trails to hold conversations, and trampling vegetation at viewpoints to fit a large number of people into pictures.
A quick perusal of hiking Meetup groups shows hundreds of photos of people in these groups engaging in less than Leave No Trace behavior on group hikes, making it clear that many group leaders are not making a serious effort to educate hike attendees.
Don’t get me wrong, more people being exposed to and enjoying our public lands is a GOOD thing! Every person who uses and appreciates our public lands is one more person who will hopefully understand the value of public lands and work to help protect them. However, if the people participating these group hikes are not getting the information required to be good stewards, the result is counterproductive.
Shared space means shared responsibility. All users of our public lands have an obligation to educate themselves and others about how to treat our public lands with respect. Leaders of group hikes, particularly those that are introducing new users, have a further duty to educate about respectful, low impact behavior. Discussing and incorporating the Leave No Trace principles early, often, and consistently while using public lands is an excellent way to convey these critical skills.