In recent years, the number of visitors exploring our National Parks has skyrocketed, and places such as Horseshoe Canyon — a once hidden location — have become popular destinations with the influence of social media. Digital popularity is physically transforming natural landscapes at a speed that can not be matched by authorities trying to preserve these spaces. To help combat this issue, people must be educated on how to enjoy our natural spaces while also protecting them.

How can young, outdoorsy, social media users find and share new places to explore while increasing their awareness of irresponsible hiking on fragile ecosystems that often results in the endangerment or death of those ecosystems?

Research

To better understand this issue, I began researching the problem, possible users, and other organizations trying to combat outdoor ethics that has already been established. After conducting some quick interviews, I found that many younger people use Instagram and it’s geotagging feature to discover new hikes and places to explore. Instagram has had a major influence in promoting outdoor enthusiasm, but has also in turn lead people to hikes without properly educating them about minimum impact hiking and can occasionally promote the exact practices that can damage or destroy an entire ecosystem. I decided to venture down this route of social media to appeal to a younger audience who is more likely to change their habits to benefit the environment. I wanted to create a form of education that felt mainstream and was more integrated into everyday life.

My research on the problem itself lead me to organizations such as Leave No Trace who have developed a set of seven principles to communicate best practices for minimum impact adventuring. I also did some research into why these principles were important and found the four key factors to trail degradation and what makes a trail or ecosystem susceptible to damage.

My persona acts as a face for the community of young outdoor enthusiasts who find inspiration on Instagram. Her lack of knowledge when it comes to her impact on the environment is what I was trying to tackle. She has no real frustrations or pain points, but rather her actions cause pain points for the environment and more environmentally conscious hikers.

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Process

To further understand and get to know my persona, I created an empathy map. This helped me flush out some of the problems that I wanted to address, and the underlying cause of certain actions.

Empathy Map

Design Thinking

After creating an empathy map for my persona, I made a quick as-is map and then transformed that into a to-be user journey map to show how my intervention would change Heather’s behaviors. I looked for pain points, as well as points where Heather might interact with the Trailblazer brand.

As-Is User Journey Map

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To-Be User Journey Map

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Branding

I wanted to create a brand that was youthful and fun while also being outdoorsy and informative. I used the wavy color blocks as a brand identifier. These are a nod to the North Carolina mountain landscapes that are where I fell in love with the outdoors. The name Trailblazer comes from the idea of carving a new path to guide others.

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@trailblazer

I decided to focus on social media for this case study after my initial interviews informed me on the correlation between Instagram and the hiking community. Many hikers look to Instagram to find hikes in their area by searching for hashtags, geotags, or following outdoor influencers. I also chose Instagram for its ability to contain movements. I looked at campaigns such as REI’s #optoutside, and drew a lot of inspiration on how to use social media to impact change. I created a video to serve as the first touchpoint a user might interact with. I imagine this would live on Instagram as a sponsored post for the Trailblazer page. The Instagram account itself contains photos to inspire people to get outdoors and learn more about wilderness ethics. It also provides tips and tricks as well as featured hikes that might be a bit less frequently visited.

Campaign Video

@trailblazers on Instagram

Instagram Stories

Website

The website serves as another learning tool for those interested in getting more information. One key feature of the Trailblazer website is its trail guide feature. When a user inputs where they wish to hike, they are given more information on certain aspects of the trail to be mindful of and tips on how to lessen their impact for that particular trail. Trails are given risk assessments and users can see and read more about how a specific trail is most at risk to degradation whether that be vegetation, topography, soil and surface characteristics, or trail traffic.

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