For now, let’s suspend the obvious and look at the big picture. Trekker, Google’s new technology for mapping the wilds of the world, looks ridiculous and due to weighing 40 pounds, will therefore be completely incapable of showing hikers much more than a day’s travel from trailhead to trailhead. Let’s put that aside and assume that Google or someone else creates a technology that permits an ultra-lightweight set of cameras to record and post continuous images taken from the top of a backpack or the hat of a hiker. Something a long distance hiker might wear. Then those images go into a free global map like Google’s Streetview.
Will we someday have Streetview for the entire Appalachian Trail? Imagine what we could see! Bear encounters? The inside of a privy? Ooh la la. Would we actually see the route through the Mahoosuc Notch or just dirt and sky as the hiker tosses his pack over to the other side of a boulder while he shimmies underneath?
Silly situations aside, there is an important question to answer: Is having a free online visual map of every trail a good thing?
I’ve got a few thoughts:
Was anyone ever deterred from going out on a trail because there were too many pictures? There are already thousands (millions? a google?) of photos online with pictures from trails. Adding a seamless set of pictures to a web-based platform like Streetview only makes access to content more convenient and therefore able to be found by more people.
Increasing awareness of trails naturally develops more interest in actually going to the trail. While this means that trails may receive higher use from people who don’t understand leave-no-trace principles, it also means that more people will take an interest in protecting the trails and the land around them. More people using trails means better chances of preserving wild spaces.
Photos and videos will never replace the experience of actually going there.
There will never be a shortage of places to explore for people who seek solitude. Responsible off-trail travel or hiking on trails far from automobile access will always ensure isolation.