Selfie-seeking Asian Americans Cause Problems and Changes at Mission Peak

"Mission Peak hikers Fremont"When I hiked Mission Peak two years ago, I saw lots of Asians on the trails, but I was surprised to see recent headlines like “Crowds Overrun Mission Peak in Fremont to Shoot Selfies.” Apparently, the number of hikers there has skyrocketed, causing parking problems, crowds, and other changes. So what happened? Are selfie-obsessed Asian Americans really swarming and degrading Mission Peak Regional Preserve?

To answer that question, we need to look its three parts. First, are there really a lot of Asian Americans on the Mission Peak trails? I remember reading articles talking about the lack of people of color in National parks and including Asian Americans. This New York Times article mentions that unlike most other Northern California parks, Mission Peak hikers reflect the local population – Fremont is 50% Asian.   Gregory Miller of the American Hiking Society says:

“The majority of users of trails in the United States are overwhelmingly Caucasian. The people hiking up Mission Peak represent America. Regardless of how people feel about the parking, people from all walks of life have chosen to take this goal-oriented hike — they’re not at the mall. That’s an extraordinary story.”

Second, is social media driving people to go there?  It’s hard to conclusively say, but a look at instagrams with the hashtag missionpeak reveals many pictures with many Asian Americans in them.  The headlines about selfies are not correct – the above picture isn’t a selfie.  It’s not that easy to get a selfie right hanging on the pole – I tried when I was up there and couldn’t get it right.

Third, is the environment inside and around the park being degraded?  The above video says yes.  The parking lot at the trailhead at Stanford Avenue has only 47 parking spaces, so hikers are often forced to park in local neighborhoods. I have always joked that the longest parts of any Mission Peak hike is getting to the trailhead from where you managed to find a parking space. Neighbors of the Stanford Avenue trailhead complained about people urinating on their lawns, making noise early in the morning and late at night. The park is said to suffer severe trail erosion from all the people on it and from wandering off the trails, along with other problems like trash and graffiti. Says Richard Dolesh, a vice president of the National Recreation and Park Association:

“It’s a park that’s being loved to death. I know of no place that is exactly like what they’re experiencing there.”

To deal with neighbors’ complaints, the park administrators have cut back on hours, reducing the park’s availability from 5 AM to 10 PM to 6:30am to 7:30pm, and then more, depending on the time of year. I think that is really sad, considering many people go there to see the sunrise.   Even some of my kids have done that, getting up when it’s still dark to see the sun come up. When I hiked Mission Peak, I didn’t notice trash, or graffiti problems (I did notice where people took shortcuts that cause erosion). Then again, use of the park has been said to have really climbed, with a half an hour wait to take a picture on the pole at the top.  Number Two Son said that he had to wait 15 minutes this summer – half an hour is quite a traffic jam there.

The Park district has tried to emphasize using the Ohlone College trailhead, but that lot has a parking fee on all days except Sunday, so there is a disincentive to use it. Other measures being considered are to remove the pole at the top to discourage selfies, adding more parking spots inside of the park, or to make neighborhood parking permit only. Neighborhood only parking has been done at another place to hike that has a lot of Asian Americans – Rancho San Antonio Park. While Rancho has large free parking lots, these lots fill quickly on the weekends, and if you don’t come early enough, you can see people circling endlessly waiting for someone to leave so they can have their parking spot. I have gone to hike there on a weekend morning and just gave up trying as there was nowhere to park. Like Mission Peak, Rancho San Antonio is surrounded by a wealthy Asian American neighborhood in a good school district.

One lesson I take from this is the unintended consequences from technology. Putting an extra camera on smartphones helped spawn selca/selfies. I don’t think anyone anticipated that it could also cause soil erosion and environmental degradation.
(photo credit: Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
(h/t: Mike)

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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