Most people who encountered Google’s Trekker on Spokane-area trails last weekend smiled and seemed curious. As the device perched on a volunteer hiker’s back was making 360-degree images at Riverside State Park, the most common question was, “How much does it weigh?” or “How much is Google paying you?”
But when volunteers Katherine Beal and Andy Fuzak departed the Centennial Trail for an off-trail route between towering basalt walls up Deep Creek Canyon, some hikers reacted differently.
“I’m not sure I’m in favor of this,” said a mom with her husband watching as their three kids enjoyed stomping through sand and crawling over boulders.
Trekker software blurs faces so they can’t be recognized, but she was referring to exposing a quiet niche of the park.
Minutes later, Beal and Fuzak passed a man hiking the cross-country route with his dogs.
“I must say I’m not in favor of (Trekker) being off-trail,” said Greg Gordon, who teaches in the Gonzaga University Environmental Studies Department. Gordon clearly had given the subject some thought before he saw Fuzak hiking up the dry creek bed with the Trekker’s 15 camera lenses snapping photos from their perch in a sphere towering above his head.
“Some places should be left for people to discover on their own,” he said.
“How are you going to understand what Thoreau said and how he thought about nature if you’re plugged into technology?
“It’s more meaningful to discover nature on its own terms.”
Beal and Fuzak nodded their heads and kept moving up the canyon before linking back into the trail system.
Fuzak had already mentioned that he had some misgivings about showing people trails without educating them on the ways to enjoy special places without hurting the resources.
“Katherine and I lead trips for Spokane Parks and Recreation and we work Leave No Trace into all the outings,” he said.
“We often have our groups pick up litter during the trip,” Beal said.
Nevertheless, they say recording areas with Trekker is a positive tool.
“We don’t think this will lead people here as much as it will allow people to experience the diversity of the park,” Fuzak said.
In a newspaper Facebook request for reactions to the Trekker technology being applied in Spokane, Josephine Gibbs offered a worldly perspective.
“Like anything else, Street View is a tool,” she said. “You can use it to take the adventure out of things, or to gather enough information to feel like you dare to take the adventure.
“I use it to make sure I can arrive at my trailhead without wasted time and excess stress.
“It’s a delightful way to experience places you may never get to go. I’ve ‘driven’ almost every road on the Isle of Skye (Scotland) in Street View. It’s not as good as going, of course, but I gained a sense of the place I never could have by looking at a few still pictures.
“As a person who gets overwhelmed easily, international travel feels very complex and daunting to me, but I now feel I could travel to Skye and enjoy myself.”
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