How do Outdoor Recreationists Perceive the State of the Environment and Do Interpretive Programs Make a Difference?


  • Angela Mallette University of the Sunshine Coast
  • Ryan Plummer



influences of interpretation, protected areas, outdoor recreation, ecological integrity, Niagara Glen Nature Reserve (NGNR)


Environmental interpretation provides visitors with positive experiences in nature while managing their impacts. Existing research has concentrated on the influence of interpretive programs on visitor knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours. Little empirical research exists on how visitors perceive their environment. In this research we examine the effect of environmental interpretation on visitors’ perceptions of the environment. The study took place in the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve, Canada. A survey is administered to visitors on self-guided experiences and visitors receiving two different interpretive programs. Perceptions are compared to ecological data. Visitors rated conditions higher than ecological data, regardless of participation in an interpretive program. There was no significant influence of an interpretive program on perceptions. Findings from this pilot study highlight the need for interpretive programs to examine their effectiveness of achieving its outcomes as well as the benefits of using a reference such as ecological data.   


Alazaizeh, M. M., Jamaliah, M. M., Mgonja, J. T., & Ababneh, A. (2019). Journal of Sustainable Tourism Tour guide performance and sustainable visitor behavior at cultural heritage sites.

Alessa, L., Bennett, S. M., & Kliskey, A. D. (2003). Effects of knowledge, personal attribution and perception of ecosystem health on depreciative behaviors in the intertidal zone of Pacific Rim National Park and Reserve. Journal of Environmental Management, 68, 207–218.

Andreasen, J. K., O’neill, R. V, Noss, R., & Slosser, N. C. (2001). Considerations for the development of a terrestrial index of ecological integrity. Ecological Indicators, 1, 21–35.

Beaumont, N. (2001). Ecotourism and the conservation ethic: Recruiting the uninitiated or preaching to the converted? Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 9(4), 317–341.

Bennett, N. J. (2016). Using perceptions as evidence to improve conservation and environmental management. Conservation Biology, 30(3), 582–592.

Boon, P. I., Fluker, M., & Wilson, N. (2008). A ten-year study of the effectiveness of an educative programme in ensuring the ecological sustainability of recreational activities in the Brisbane Ranges National Park, South-Eastern Australia. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 16(6), 681–697.

Bruno, N., & Pavani, F. (2018). Perception: A Multisensory perspective. Oxford Scholarship Online.

Burger, J. (2003). Assessing perceptions about ecosystem health and restoration options in three east coast estuaries. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 83(2), 145–162.

Butler, J. R., & Hvenegaard, G. T. (2002). Interpretation and environmental education. In Parks and Protected Areas in Canada: Planning and Management (pp. 179–203).

Clayton, S., Litchfield, C., & Geller, S. E. (2013). Psychological science, conservation, and environmental sustainability. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 11(7), 377–382.

Cole, D. N., Hammond, T. P., & Mccool, S. F. (1997). Information Quantity and Communication Effectiveness: Low-Impact Messages on Wilderness Trailside Bulletin Boards. Leisure Sciences, 19, 59–72.

Cook, C. N., Wardell-Johnson, G., Keatley, M., Gowans, S. A., Gibson, M. S., Westbrooke, M. E., & Marshall, D. J. (2010). Is what you see what you get? Visual vs. measured assessments of vegetation condition. Journal of Applied Ecology, 47(3), 650–661.

Curado, G., Manzano-Arrondo, V., Figueroa, E., & Castillo, J. M. (2014). Public Perceptions and Uses of Natural and Restored Salt Marshes. Landscape Research, 39(6), 668–679.

Dean, S. N. (2020). National Park Interpretation and Place-Based Education: An Integrative Literature Review. Journal of Experiential Education.

Gelcich, S., & O’Keeffe, J. (2016). Emerging frontiers in perceptions research for aquatic conservation. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 26, 986–994.

Gordon, D. R., Parrish, J. D., Salzer, D. W., Tear, T. H., & Pace-Aldana, B. (2005). The Nature Conservancy’s Approach to Measuring Biodiversity Status and the Effectiveness of Conservation Strategies. The Nature Conservancy.

Groulx, M., Lemieux, C. J., Lewis, J. L., & Brown, S. (2017). Understanding consumer behaviour and adaptation planning responses to climate-driven environmental change in Canada’s parks and protected areas: a climate futurescapes approach. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 60(6), 1016–1035.

Hill, D., & Daniel, T. C. (2008). Foundations for an Ecological Aesthetic: Can Information Alter Landscape Preferences? Society and Natural Resources, 21, 34–49.

Hill, J., Woodland, W., & Gough, G. (2007). Can visitor satisfaction and knowledge about tropical rainforests be enhanced through biodiversity interpretation, and does this promote a positive attitude towards ecosystem conservation? Journal of Ecotourism, 6(1), 75–85.

Io, M.-U. (2013). Testing a model of effective interpretation to boost the heritage tourism experience: A case study in Macao. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 21(6), 900–914.

Jones, C., Shipley, N., & Ul-Hasan, S. (2017). Bringing parks back to the people: Revisiting the dual mandate and core values of the National Park Service. The George Wright Forum, 34(1), 45–52.

Kim, A. K., Airey, D., & Szivas, E. (2011). The Multiple Assessment of Interpretation Effectiveness: Promoting Visitors’ Environmental Attitudes and Behavior. Journal of Travel Research, 50(3), 321–334.

Knapp, D. (1996). The relationship between environmental interpretation and environmental education. A Sense of Place: Proceedings of the National Interpreters Workshop, 56.

Madin, E. M. P., & Fenton, D. M. (2004). Environmental Interpretation in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park: An Assessment of Programme Effectiveness. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 12(2), 121–137.

Manning, R. E. (2003). Emerging Principles for Using Information/Education in Wilderness Management. International Journal of Wilderness, 9(1), 20–28.

Marion, J. L., & Reid, S. E. (2007). Minimising visitor impacts to protected areas: The efficacy of low impact education programmes. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 15(1), 5–27.

McNamara, K. E., Prideaux, B., & Ceer, F. (2010). Reading, learning and enacting: Interpretation at visitor sites in the Wet Tropics rainforest of Australia. Environmental Education Research, 16(2), 173–188.

Moscardo, G. (2014). Interpretation and tourism: holy grail or emperor’s robes? International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research, 8(4), 462–476.

Moscardo, G., & Pearce, P. L. (1986). Visitor centres and environmental interpretation: an exploration of the relationships among visitor enjoyment, understanding, and mindfulness. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 6, 89–108.

Munro, J., Morrison-Saunders, A., & Hughes, M. (2008). Environmental interpretation evaluation in natural areas. Journal of Ecotourism, 7(1), 1–14.

Orams, M. B. (1996a). A Conceptual model of tourist-wildlife interaction: The case for education as a management strategy. Australian Geographer, 27(1), 39–51.

Orams, M. B. (1996b). Using interpretation to manage nature-based tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 4(2), 81–94.

Ormsby, A. A., & Forys, E. A. (2010). The Effects of an Education Campaign on Beach User Perceptions of Beach-Nesting Birds in Pinellas County, Florida Beach User Perceptions of Birds. Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 15(2), 119–128.

Papageorgiou, K. (2001). A combined park management framework based on regulatory and behavioral strategies: Use of visitors’ knowledge to assess effectiveness. Environmental Management, 28(1), 61–73.

Parrish, J. D., Braun, D. P., & Unnasch, R. S. (2003). Are We Conserving What We Say We Are? Measuring Ecological Integrity within Protected Areas. BioScience, 53(9), 851.[0851:AWCWWS]2.0.CO;2

Patel, A., Rapport, D. J., Vanderlinden, L., & Eyles, J. (1999). Forests and societal values: comparing scientific and public perception of forest health. The Environmentalist, 19, 239–249.

Pendleton, L., Martinà, N., & Webster, D. G. (2001). Public perceptions of environmental quality: A survey study of beach use and perceptions in Los Angeles County. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 42(11), 1155–1160.

Petrosillo, I., Zurlini, G., Corlia, M. E., Zaccarelli, N., & Dadamo, M. (2007). Tourist perception of recreational environment and management in a marine protected area. Landscape and Urban Planning, 79, 29–37.

Petursdottir, T., Aradottir, A. L., & Benediktsson, K. (2013). An Evaluation of the Short-Term Progress of Restoration Combining Ecological Assessment and Public Perception. Restoration Ecology, 21(1), 75–85.

Powell, R. B., & Ham, S. H. (2008). Can Ecotourism Interpretation Really Lead to Pro-Conservation Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviour? Evidence from the Galapagos Islands. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 16(4), 467–489.

Ren, Q., & Folta, E. (2016). Evaluating Environmental Interpretation with Mixed Method. Journal of Interpretation, 21(2), 5–19.

Roberts, M., Mearns, K., & Edwards, V. (2014). Evaluating the effectiveness of guided versus non-guided interpretation in the Kruger National Park, South Africa. Koedoe, 56(2), 1–8.

Sharp, R. L., Cleckner, L. B., & Depillo, S. (2016). The impact of on-site educational outreach on recreational users’ perceptions of aquatic invasive species and their management. Environmental Education Research, 23(8), 1200–1210.

Shultis, J. D., & Way, P. A. (2006). Changing Conceptions of Protected Areas and Conservation: Linking Conservation, Ecological Integrity and Tourism Management. Journal of Sustainable Tourism , 14(3), 223–237.

Skibins, J. C., Powell, R. B., & Stern, M. J. (2012). Exploring empirical support for interpretation’s best practices. Journal of Interpretation Research, 17(1), 25–44. from

Tarannum, F., Kansal, A., & Sharma, P. (2018). Understanding public perception, knowledge and behaviour for water quality management of the river yamuna in India. Water Policy, 20(2), 266–281.

Tubb, K. N. (2003). An evaluation of the effectiveness of interpretation within Dartmoor National Park in reaching the goals of sustainable tourism development. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 11(6), 476–498.

Varga, S., & Kor, P. (1993). Reconnaissance Survey of the Niagara Gorge Area of Natural and Scientific Interest.

Wurtzebach, Z., & Schultz, C. (2016). Measuring Ecological Integrity: History, Practical Applications, and Research Opportunities. BioScience, 66(6), 446–457.

Zeppel, H. (2008). Education and conservation benefits of marine wildlife tours: Developing free-choice learning experiences. Journal of Environmental Education, 39(3), 3–18.