Most would say that a large part of West Coast life is embracing and exploring the outdoors – after all, B.C. offers some of the most beautiful places in the world.
But how do you strike a balance between exploration and preservation?
That was the main debate that Brandi McCallum faced on her popular online hiking community, Take A Hike Vancouver Island (TAHVI) on Facebook, which recently shut down.
“We started the group because we wanted to find hiking buddies,” she said. “Six years ago there were no all inclusive groups… we wanted to be advocates for the outdoors.”
McCallum said a large message they pushed was the “Leave No Trace” ideology, which aims to leave nature pristine by not straying off of paths, littering, or disturbing areas. But by 2018 the community ballooned to over 42,000 members, causing messages to quickly be buried and making it impossible to account for everyone’s actions.
This resulted in a chaotic schedule of moderating posts and private messages, many which became volatile and personal.
“We kept having to put more rules in; it’s not a rant and rave page, it’s a hiking page and we want to keep it positive,” McCallum said. “People kept saying social media is ruining the outdoors and we respect that, but who are we to judge who joins hiking site?”
While McCallum dealt with the situation for years, a recent group called Fake A Hike Vancouver Island was the last straw after she said they tagged her and her partner in hurtful memes, public posts, and cruel private messages.
Fake A Hike described itself as a satirical version of the hiking page which aimed to really emphasize the importance of Leave No Trace.
“Take A Hike has always been about sharing locations with everyone, we were starting to see a problem in that in places like Keyhole Springs getting shut down,” said Liam Higgins, an admin member of Fake a Hike.
Higgins was a member of TAHVI, and said when he tried to voice his concerns he received backlash.
“I tried to raise issues within the group and I got death threats, mocked by my appearance, and insults on my family.”
Higgins said he only meant posts as jokes, and never sent mean messages to McCallum himself, though he is aware other admins did. Much like TAHVI, he said Fake a Hike grew and lost control.
“It turned into a bloody gong show,” he said. “We’re sorry for anyone whose feelings were hurt, it was never our intention… I don’t condone cyberbullying.”
For Higgins, the project was always about passing the torch to future generations.
“I was just concerned about stewardship,” he said. “It’s about not geotagging posts or photos, and leaving Instagram location tags alone.”
McCallum didn’t disagree with Higgins’ stance.
“There is validity to that, but my point was we can take TAHVI down and then 10 more groups will pop up because social media is going nowhere,” McCallum said. “Now you have no idea if they’re going to promote Leave No Trace or safety”
Eventually the two groups came to a truce: McCallum would shut down her group if Fake A Hike would, too. Both groups have since been closed to new members and archived. Several other hiking groups have since emerged.
As for McCallum, she’ll hold off on more groups, at least until her child is a bit older.
“I’ve made so many friends from this group, I have no shortage of hiking buddies,” McCallum said.
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