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OSU study suggests Instagram isn’t causing overcrowding in Oregon parks as much as assumed

About eight people climb a wide sandy trail, with rock cliffs in the background.
OSU Cascades students hike out after climbing at Smith Rock State Park

Instagram and other photo-sharing apps have been blamed for overcrowding on public lands. But research out of Oregon State University suggests social media isn’t a huge driver of visitation.

Ashley Lowe Mackenzie and her colleagues used 18 years of visitation data and compared it with geotagged Instagram content from 50 popular Oregon state parks.

“There were four parks that went really viral on the app," she told KLCC. "And the really engaging content, not just the general uploading activity, people sharing stuff, but those that really got a lot of engagement, had an impact on the growth that was seen at those parks.”

Mackenzie said Smith Rock, Silver Falls, Ecola and Oswald West aren’t the state’s most popular parks, but they share scenic and iconic vistas. Viral photos shared from those parks were linked to growth rates of about 4 percent.

Mackenzie said public land managers might use geotagged data to be more prepared for increased numbers. She added National Parks, including Crater Lake, now require people who monetize their content to buy a photo permit for images made in park boundaries.

Karen Richards joined KLCC as a volunteer reporter in 2012, and became a freelance reporter at the station in 2015. In addition to news reporting, she’s contributed to several feature series for the station, earning multiple awards for her reporting.