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Visitor Use Density (Wilderness) Research

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by ratagonia, Oct 23, 2019.

  1. ratagonia


    Mount Carmel, Utah
    Here's another tasty tidbit for your amusement:

    Visitor Use Density and Wilderness Experiences: A Historical Review of Research David N. Cole

    Abstract: Considerable research on the relationship between use density and wilderness visitor experiences has been conducted over the past four decades. This paper focuses on early work on this topic, tracing the development and languishing of different research themes suggested by this early work. Research particularly that conducted in the normative tradition has contributed useful information to managers grappling with the imposition of use limits. However, traditional research approaches need to be supplemented with research conducted at both smaller and larger scales. Research on the opinions of communities of onsite recreation users needs to be complemented by research capable of better articulating the nature of the recreation experience, differentiating between subpopulations of users, and placing individual protected areas within larger regional contexts.

    (excerpts from the body of the paper) Visitor Opinions About and Responses to Use Limits Further insight into the effects of use density on experiences can be gleaned from studies that asked visitors about their support for use limits. Typically, visitors support restricting the number of visitors to an area if it is being used beyond its capacity (Lucas 1980). However, visitors are reluctant to ever conclude that an area is being used beyond its capacity. Starting with a study of three eastern wilderness areas (Roggenbuck and others 1982), visitor support for use controls has been assessed by asking them to select one of the following responses: (1) controls are needed to lower use, (2) controls are needed to hold use at current levels, (3) controls not needed now, but should be imposed in the future if overuse occurs, or (4) controls not needed now or in the future. Virtually everywhere this question has been asked, including some of the most densely used destinations in the wilderness system (Cole and others 1997), most people have responded that controls are not needed now but should be imposed in the future if overuse occurs.

    The one exception in the literature Linville Gorge Wilderness already has a permit system. Most visitors there also support the status quo, which in this case, means they think use should be held to current levels. Shortly after the implementation of use limits, visitor opinions about limits were assessed at Rocky Mountain National Park (Fazio and Gilbert 1974), Denali National Park (Bultena and others 1981), and San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Wildernesses (Stankey 1979). In each case, most people who visited these places after use limits had been imposed supported that management action. They supported the current management regime.

    Hall and Cole (2000) examined visitor response to the imposition of use limits in the Obsidian Falls area of the Three Sisters Wilderness. Prior to the imposition of use limits in 1991, 60 percent of visitors opposed use limits. After implementation of limits in 1997, 60 percent of visitors supported the use limits. One might want to interpret this as evidence that visitors changed their opinion about use limits once they experienced the benefits that accrue from a reduction in use density. This does not appear to be the case, however. Prior to the imposition of use limits, most visitors were repeat visitors. Following the imposition of use limits the clientele had changed dramatically. Most visitors were first-timers, more amenable to regulation and, interestingly, no less tolerant of encounters or ecological impacts. One of the effects of use limits was to displace many traditional users who were replaced by people who were less bothered by being regulated. Consequently, the majority of visitors supported the current management regime, regardless of what that regime was. Use limits were not imposed at Green Lakes a nearby wilderness destination that was even more heavily used than the Obsidian Falls area. The portion opposed to use limits there increased from 60 to 70 percent between 1991 and 1997.

    (somewhat later:)

    Consequences of Choice When the consequences of choices are made clear, current onsite visitors tend to sup-port the current management regime and accept existing biophysical and social conditions (unless the costs of a change in management are all borne by some other user group). Since density has little effect on experience quality, few visitors are willing to forego the opportunity for access in order to have fewer encounters when they do visit.

    Although visitors tend to support the concept of limiting use to avoid certain problems, they seldom conclude that problems are severe enough to warrant limits at this time perhaps because they recognize that such limits would hinder their own access. Those who do not like the current management program either the existing regulations or resultant conditions are likely to have already gone elsewhere. They are not likely to make up a large proportion of any sample of onsite users. Therefore, if use levels are increasing and managers make decisions about tradeoffs the way that empirical studies suggest most visitors would, there will almost always be a constant evolution toward higher density experiences. This suggests that the rationale for use limits is more likely to come from some careful evaluation of legislative and administrative mandates or the unique value and purpose of any given area than from a survey of current visitors.
    Austin Farnworth likes this.
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