The Influence of Visitor Use Levels on Visitor Spatial Behavior in Off-Trail Areas of Dispersed Recreation Use

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Journal of Environmental Management


Elsevier BV

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A variety of social and ecological factors influence the level and extent of ecological change that occurs in a park or protected area. Understanding these factors and how they are interrelated can help managers prevent undesirable ecological impacts, especially in areas without formal trails and visitor sites. This study examines the relationship between levels of visitor use and spatial patterns of visitor behavior at a variety of backcountry recreation destinations. Current assumptions in both the literature and simulation modeling efforts assume that visitor behavior either does not change with use level or that visitors are more likely to disperse at high levels of visitor use. Using visitor counts and GPS tracks of visitor behavior in locations where visitors could disperse off-trail, we found that visitors' spatial behavior does vary with visitor use level in some recreation settings, however the patterns of visitor behavior observed in this study are sometimes contrary to current generalizations. When visitor behavior does vary with use level, visitors are dispersing more at low levels of visitor use not when use level is high. Overall, these findings suggest that in certain situations the amount of visitor use at a recreation destination may be a less important driver of ecological change than visitor behavior.

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