“Trail shaming” on Instagram is the latest vigilante attempt to protect Colorado’s Hanging Lake

This is what happens when beautiful places meet massive popularity and the internet.
3 min. read
Hanging Lake and its log. (Joshua Hicks/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Hanging Lake and its log. (Joshua Hicks/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

There's an irresistible log in Glenwood Canyon. It floats perfectly on Hanging Lake,  practically inviting people to walk out across the ecologically sensitive aquamarine waters. Day after day, countless visitors balance in the middle, arms outstretched, to pose for photographs.

Sometimes they crop out the sign that says, "Please keep off the log." Sometimes they don't. Then they put it on Instagram -- which is where, lately, they've met an angry gang of nature lovers.

The account "Trail Trash of Colorado," has for the last two weeks compiled Instagrammed evidence of misbehavior at Hanging Lake and beyond. Its anonymous operator republishes the offending photos, always tagging the perpetrator with a sarcastic, shaming message.

"Play by the rules or get named and shamed. Stop ruining the wilderness we try so hard to protect," the vigilante account declares.

This is what happens when beautiful places meet massive popularity and the internet. This is trail shaming.

For example:

"Does this sign look familiar to anyone? @godlike_johny might know a thing or two about it.......," reads one recent caption, paired with "johny's" photo of shorts hanging from the sign.

Swimming is forbidden because of the lake's delicate ecological balance, as numerous other signs declare.  Apparently, johny did not care. "Thanks for the shoutout ?? rules are meant to be broken either way :)" he replied.

Later, he said that he may not have gone swimming, despite his original caption's declaration that he is "[a]lways down for a late night swim in a beautiful lake ?☀️❤️ ."

Trail Trash is gaining ground fast.

The account has built up 600 followers in its couple weeks of existence, especially since recent graffiti prompted the U.S. Forest Service to threaten a shutdown of Hanging Lake this week. It was gaining by the minute as of publication.

"I don’t know who that is, but I love it," said Preston Files, founder of AspenTrailFinder.com.

Files is basically the proto-trail shamer of Aspen, having previously used his site to highlight offending Instagram accounts. He sees this strategy as an effective complement to the Forest Service's limited resources.

"It’s on everybody to kind of shame these people," he said. "The reason these people are doing this is they think it’s cool. They want to get some kind of credit or reaction."

The concept also has spawned a lively discussion on r/Denver. Plenty of users gave gleeful reviews ("Doing gods work. Literally.") At least one, though, suggested that the shame might work better if it was mixed with a better explanation of why it's so bad to walk on a log.

That's something I noticed too. @godlike_johny shrugged off all the nastiest comments, but engaged with a commenter who explained how the rules protect the environment.

"I understand why everyone is angry. I would of as well if I was in their shoes," he conceded. "I respect the ecosystem very much and always will."

What do you think?

Is this an appropriate way to discourage bad behavior? Is it an invitation for conflict and verbal abuse? Should the U.S. Forest Service start monitoring social media?

Email me and let me know if I can use your name.

Recent Stories