We first heard about the Trail Trash of Colorado Instagram account earlier this year while reporting on the way Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon was being loved to death by record crowds, while also enduring hikers not following the rules, vandalism and a spate of emergency calls.
In one instance, a Brazilian clothing company posted photos of a fashion shoot at Hanging Lake of models doing yoga on an iconic log that had fallen into the lake — near a sign that tells people to stay off the log.
The Trail Trash account manager reposted the image. The account publicly shames bad behavior in the outdoors: pictures of people who walk across the Hanging Lake log, or who feed wildlife, or who bring dogs where they're not allowed.
In a demonstration of how the Instagram account can unleash unwanted attention, the company, Liquido Active, posted an apology on Facebook and took its photos down. In the meantime, the Forest Service is considering limited access to Hanging Lake now, as well as other popular spots including Conundrum Hot Springs over near Aspen.
Another wave of unwanted attention fell on a woman who posted a selfie of her and her dog at Hanging Lake, where dogs are prohibited. The anonymous operator of Trail Trash reposted that photo, too: It was clear evidence of misbehavior in the outdoors and a chance to remind people of the regulation. As the account makes clear, people who break the rules get "named and shamed."
The woman in the photo apologized, but the comments below the photo quickly turned to insults. When the comments in the photo turned vile, he turned off comments. That sent traffic to the woman's own Instagram account, where things took an even uglier turn.
Colorado Matters spoke with the anonymous owner of Trail Trash of Colorado, who says changes are coming to the way he handles the account. Edited highlights of the conversation are below.
Conversation Highlights With @TrailTrashCO
Why he wants anonymity:
"It’s something I’ve been thinking about. And if you asked me that a month or two ago, what I would have told you was that the whole concept was not about me, it's about the outdoors. It's not something where like I want to draw attention to me, like, ‘Hey look at me I'm doing this.’ But currently there are a lot of people who are pretty angry with me. And really all it is is, I don't want people showing up at my house. I don’t want people stopping me in the street and confront me about this. You know this all started like a side project to me. It was never meant to be something super serious."
On how the account snowballed:
"It's kind of an outlet for me to kind of fire back at these people ... who just are there like in the selfie culture and all they want is, they want to go get a picture themselves doing something awesome outdoors. And they don't care what the impact is. They don't care if they're breaking the rules. They don't care if they're jumping over signs. They don't care. They just want that shot. So this is just -- I think you kind of fire back at those people. It's really snowballed out of my control at this point."
Whether not wanting to be confronted by people he confronts is hypocritical:
"Maybe. You know I've been thinking about it and one of my arguments for why it's not is because a lot of these people who were ending up on the account, their only purpose in posting these pictures in the first place is they want to get attention. And I'm going to give them the attention. ...They're putting it out there themselves. They put it out in the public domain, it's public for everyone to see, and I'm just bringing it to light."
On why he’s changing his approach:
"In recent weeks it's become pretty clear to me that it can't really continue the way it is. I've actually started obscuring the names so that people can't just click on the name and start sending them hate mail. An interesting thing happened. Ever since this has been gaining popularity — you know it's been getting more followers, it's been getting more comments -- and some of the comments are just downright disgusting. And you know, like I said this is a side project for me. I don't have the time to moderate this at the level where which I'm filtering through comments, so I just have shut the comments off on some of these posts.
An interesting thing happened the other day: I had posted a picture of some young woman on the log [at Hanging Lake, where there’s a sign telling people to stay off the log]. And you know it started out as playful mockery, which is kinda where I wanted to go in the first place you know? Just like, ‘Hey look at you, you big idiot you're on the log.’ You know, don't do that. …
People continued to berate her and people continue to just say some of the meanest things that you could say to a person about it, so I said, 'OK that's enough.' I turned the comments off. Later on in the day I got a message from her and she said, just to let you know ever since you shut the comments off, people have taken to just private messaging me [on the app] and they can't see that I apologized, so they're now sending me hate mail and death threats and stuff like that — actual death threats."