The rise of "selfies" has created a safety problem and a conundrum for parks and other popular tourist attractions.
Yellowstone National Park is proactive on selfie sticks. Those telescopic poles that extend the photo range of smartphones can cause destruction and even death. Wave them around while concentrating on the perfect background and you can whack a fellow traveler over the head. Step back just a little too far and you not only miss the photo, you miss everything. Last year 12 people died while using a selfie stick compared with eight who perished as a result of shark attacks.
To prevent accidents as well as the destruction of property, more and more attractions worldwide ban selfie sticks, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s National Gallery, Beijing’s Palace Museum, Wimbledon, and all Disney theme parks.
Yellowstone's interactive photo center. Photo: Candyce H. Stapen
Yellowstone National Park takes another approach. The park has turned the Haynes Photo Shop in the Old Faithful Village area into an interactive center that adds fun to the selfie experience while, hopefully, educating users.
Visitors pose for a photo booth-like shot of themselves against a background of an F. Jay Haynes’ early 20th century Yellowstone photograph. Their image is digitally inserted into the shot and appears on a tablet screen. Visitors can then post the shot to social media sites. Using video cameras setup outside the shop, visitors can record their Yellowstone stories. The park selects some of these tales to share on its social media outlets. A table features charging stations and the front porch of the shop offers rocking chairs for relaxing.
How does this relate to safety? Visitors are asked to sign a safe selfie pledge that reminds them to be aware of their surroundings and stay a safe distance from the wildlife. “You cannot stop people from taking selfies. It’s better to lean in and explain how to do this safely,” says Daniel Bierschwale, director of outreach and community engagement for the Yellowstone Association.
The re-constituted Haynes Photo Shop debuted May 23. Travelers who discover the place and take advantage of posting digital photos, creating videos as well as relaxing will enjoy the experience. Will doing this make them more careful and respectful selfie stick users? That remains to be seen.
In the meantime, watch out for flying selfie rods when you pull into an overlook or walk along a boardwalk. More pesky than mosquitos and more numerous than bison, selfie sticks can be a danger to your health.