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Using Webcam Video Feed to Measure and Evaluate National Park Recreation Patterns

Emily Schill Gray, Jocelyn S. Wikle


Park managers and researchers have increasingly sought new approaches for data collection to understand recreation patterns and experiences in a more sophisticated and holistic manner. Traditional methods of monitoring visitors through on-site observation and surveys can be time consuming, expensive, and prone to error, and park managers recognize the value of new technologies in providing reliable and cost-effective visitor monitoring programs that achieve a balance between precision, accuracy, and efficiency. Live webcam video feeds are becoming increasingly available online and provide an opportunity to monitor aspects of recreation that have previously been difficult to measure. Additionally, webcam monitoring, which can be done remotely, provides a cost-effective alternative to on-site data collection because it eliminates the need for travel costs and on-site personnel. The purpose of this study is to provide a methodological investigation of extracting recreation data from webcams to introduce park managers and leisure researchers to this new data collection technique. We provide a typology for the types of questions this method can address, carefully document an approach for conducting research with webcam video feeds, and provide a proof-of-principle through presenting a case study. Taken together, we demonstrate that an online approach using webcam footage for recreation research is feasible and viable. This research has broad applications in recreation contexts, allowing the study of detailed spatio-temporal recreation patterns, visit volumes, user heterogeneity, and large tour tracking. Webcam information can also be combined with relevant data on weather conditions, air quality, gas prices, or other conditions to learn about factors shaping the timing of recreation experiences. This study has implications for park and recreation managers, who make decisions about facilitating or hindering the use of webcams at their sites through their attention to expanding or contracting the supply of webcams on public lands, positioning cameras, and maintaining live feeds. Decisions made by park staff about webcams should not only consider the impacts of webcams on enhancing user experience, but also consider their use as a tool to monitor recreation patterns by park personnel and by leisure and tourism researchers more broadly.

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Outdoor recreation; national parks; visitor use monitoring; webcam video feed; park management; revenue management; data scraping

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