GPS-‐‐basedmeasurements of backcountry visitors in parks and protected areas: Examples of methods and applications from three case studies

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Journal of Park and Recreation Administration

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Understanding the spatial pattern of visitor use in parks is essential for protecting park resources and visitor experiences. Information on the specific locations and intensity of use can provide an important “early warning” of locations of potential visitor resource impact and of times and places where visitor density is suggestive of crowding and other experience issues. Past studies have traditionally used techniques such as automated visitor counters, observational methodologies, and survey techniques to gain an understanding of the spatial component of visitor use behavior and of visitor use intensity. However, these methods have various limitations including logistical considerations and the reliability and accuracy of the techniques. This research reports on recent methodological advances in three studies where global positioning system (GPS) tracking methodologies was used to determine the locations and densities of visitor use along trail corridors. GPS-based methods were used in the Tuolumne Meadows trail system of Yosemite National Park to understand visitor use at this popular hiking destination, within the Bear Lake Corridor of Rocky Mountain National Park to examine the spatial patterns of visitor use, and in the Teton Range to measure the frequency, timing, and intensity of winter backcountry recreation. Findings from these studies suggest that GPS tracking methodology holds significant promise. GPS-based methods can be used to gather both spatial and temporal information about visitors in a variety of protected area management situations. The data resulting from GPS strategies are ample, detailed, and more accurate spatially than data collected using traditional methodologies. GPS tracking methodology has the potential to be combined with other data sources, such as visitor surveys and recreation ecology assessments, to provide an important use-related context to these approaches. Overall, GPS tracking can be used to gain information vital to the understanding of several contemporary issues in protected area management such as visitor experience and natural resource impacts, visitor-wildlife concerns, and visitor soundscape experiences.

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