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FOX 13 News 360: The cost of 'oversharing' Utah's natural beauty on social media

Posted at 10:06 PM, Sep 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-23 19:45:57-04

Have Utah’s natural wonders been overshared online?

FOX 13 News asked state and local leaders to weigh in on what seems to be a growing trend of bigger crowds showing up in Utah’s outdoors, sometimes with negative consequences.

All agreed that littering, vandalism and trespassing in rural areas are on the rise.

For Sgt. Darren Cashin of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the issue can be a matter of life or death.

“Quite a few that we have rescued in the past several years are people that said, ‘I saw this on the internet,' [or] ‘I read it on Facebook,'" said Cashin.

He says many ill-prepared explorers were inspired by posts and pictures of locations that had little to no description of what it takes to reach those destinations.

READ: Experts caution prospective climbers about dangers of the 'WURL'

“Yant Flat is a place in our county I didn’t even know existed three years ago, and we’ve had so many rescues there," Cashing said. "That all started because somebody went on a trek there and posted it."

In May of 2019, viral videos showing temporary waterfalls created by excess water at Gunlock Reservoir prompted thousands to visit. Some took part in cliff jumping into the pools of water below the falls.

“Unfortunately, some of them did not survive,” Cashin said.

The waterfalls are no longer present, but people still arrive hoping to see them.

READ: Stay safe around Gunlock waterfalls, parks office cautions

In June of 2020, viral videos showing people kayaking on canals near the Bonneville Salt Flats also inspired visitors.

“Those canals were not designed for recreation,” said Rachel Wootton, a Public Affairs Specialist with the Bureau of Land Management.

The canals were built by a mining company, and they cross parcels of land with different owners.

People hoping to visit the canals after they went viral were turned away by security guards and the Utah High Patrol, which ticketed cars parked illegally along Interstate 80 near the canals.

WATCH: Agencies advise against visiting viral West Desert blue canal

Problem areas aside, tourism is big business in Utah.

According to the Utah Office of Tourism, visitors spent $10 billion in the Beehive State in 2019.

Utah Office of Tourism Director Vicki Varela says keeping the money coming in while keeping Utah cleaner and safer is exactly what her office had in mind while creating the "Forever Mighty" ad campaign.

“It’s not so much marketing as it is inspiring people to travel and be respectful of our outdoor places,” said Varela.

Phillip Monson, an outdoor enthusiast with more than 20,000 followers on Instagram, loves sharing Utah with others, but he has words of caution for those who might base their next adventure on a social media post.

“Instagram is not reality. What they see may not be what is portrayed,” said Monson.

He says many posts lack critical details such as travel times, road conditions, and whether the destination seen online might be on private property.

Monson suggests you include those details in your own posts, or if you’re looking to keep a favorite spot private, don’t post its coordinates at all.

“We live in a world where it is so 'me, me, me'-centric," Monson said. "'It’s a selfie, it’s my content, it’s my social media page.' Put nature first."

Many of his posts on Instagram offer tips for how to safely enjoy the outdoors and leave places better than you found them.