The pictures are similar bordering on the same: a newly married young couple, in their finest wedding regalia, embracing while straddling the double yellow line across Highway 1. A sylphlike woman lying in a field of wildflowers, complete with hashtag “superbloom.” Friends gathered around a campfire somewhere above Highway 1, the sun setting over the ocean in the distance. A hand grasping a live starfish plucked from the tidepools at Pfeiffer Beach or Jade Cove, with a narrative about the beauty of nature.
These folks get zero points for originality, but some of them, at least, get many, many points for their bad behavior. Standing in the middle of an active roadway to take a vanity picture? Bad. Going off the path into protected habitat to get a selfie while standing in the middle of wildflowers? Bad. Having a campfire without a permit and without sufficient defensible space around it? Super bad – and potentially life-altering for the wildlife and residents of Big Sur.
Some of those residents, fed up with the bad behavior (some of which, like using the sides of Highway 1 as a toilet and leaving behind feces and toilet paper in their wake, never ends up in a lovely Instagram shot) have rallied to create what’s called the “Big Sur Pledge” and ask visitors to sign on. If they do, they agree to safely share the coastal roads; be mindful of their actions and protect and respect Big Sur’s natural resources, employees and residents; not take or damage what doesn’t belong to them; camp only where it’s allowed; and be vigilant of fire.
And for those tourists who just don’t seem to get it? Well, there’s an Instagram account about you, featuring you. Formerly named “Bigsurhatesyou,” the organizers of the account on May 13 changed the name to a less bombastic “Bigsureducatesyou.” The stated goal: Get people to take the Big Sur Pledge and help “keep this stretch of paradise looking awesome for all visitors.”
The unstated goal? A little bit of shaming. If you post a picture of a campfire and use the hashtag “BigSur,” the account manager will repost it and remind you to use the hashtag “firepermit” so people don’t think it’s OK to start a fire in the backcountry without a permit, as they did to Instagram user @scuba.steve24 on May 6. Wanna snag a starfish and post a picture of it in your outstretched hand? The account manager will repost it and remind you not to touch the wildlife, as happened with Instagrammer @roman_rider on May 11. Post a picture of yourself sitting on the double yellows of Highway 1? The account manager will ask you kindly not to pose for a photo in the middle of an active highway, as happened with Instagram user @parnell_scott on May 14.
Some Instagrammers handle the reminders well, pointing out they indeed had a permit for their campfire, but thanks for the reminder. Other Instagrammers and their friends quickly go on the offensive, as @donpatstein did on May 11, commenting, “Your privilege (is) showing, you don’t own Big Sir (sic) we are going to keep shitting on your driveway.” One user, @featherandfieldapothecary, deleted their account after they were called out for a photo of their outstretched hand holding a bunch of poppies plucked from a field – an act most any California kid can tell you is illegal and can carry a hefty fine if the flowers were taken from public lands.
Whoever is behind the account has thus far remained anonymous and didn’t respond to direct messages sent via Instagram. In response to a question from KSBW, the account manager identified themself as “A Big Sur local fed up with all the stupidity.”
Butch Kronlund, executive director of the Coast Property Owners Association, says the Big Sur Pledge, spearheaded by the CPOA, and the Instagram account are two sides of the same coin – teaching the millions of visitors Big Sur sees each year to show respect for the place and its people.
“We’re both trying to influence behavior in a positive way,” he says. The Instagram account “started out with a tone that came off as shaming, but recently that tone has evaporated and the folks who are being educated are coming back saying, ‘You’re right, my bad, we’ll do better next time,’ so that part is all good.”