Outdoor Recreationists’ Perceptions of Risk, Agency Trust, and Visitor Capacities During the COVID-19 Pandemic





COVID-19, perceived risk, agency trust, visitor capacity, outdoor recreation, public lands


For nearly a century in the United States, visitor capacities have served as a means of preserving resources and the visitor experience on public lands. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in increased interest in implementing visitor capacities that could potentially limit use on public lands, suggesting a need to understand public support for their use in a timely manner. Risk and trust have been used in previous research concerning support for natural resource and outdoor recreation decision-making. Research in this realm includes investigation at the intersection of outdoor recreation and public health, specific to chronic wasting disease. Following this previous research, this study utilizes the constructs of risk and trust to examine support for visitor capacities that could potentially limit use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, this theory-driven research relies on the cultural theory of risk and social trust theory. Using structural equation modeling and a sample of avid outdoor enthusiasts, we examine how well 1) perceived individual risk, 2) perceived community risk, 3) trust in public health agencies, and 4) trust in public land agencies predict support for visitor capacities that could potentially limit use. An email-distributed online survey was available for 48 hours beginning on April 30, 2020—during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Measurement of perceived risk and trust followed previous research relating to outdoor recreation and public health. Results indicate that outdoor enthusiasts are concerned about their individual and community health and reported higher levels of trust in data coming directly from public health agencies as opposed to state or federal land management agencies. Additionally, perceived individual risk and perceived community risk were significant predictors of support for visitor capacities. These findings can be used to improve the effectiveness of messaging intended to connect perceived risk to the management of parks and protected areas, thus providing credibility to management actions implemented during the pandemic. Additional implications from this research include the need for additional research examining support for management actions that could potentially limit use on public lands, the multidimensionality of trust in outdoor recreation, and individual risk in frontcountry outdoor recreation settings.


Author Biographies

William L. Rice, University of Montana

Assistant Professor, Department of Society and Conservation

Timothy J. Mateer, Pennsylvania State University

PhD student, Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management

Peter Newman, Pennsylvania State University

Professor and Department Head, Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management

Ben Lawhon, Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

Education Director

Nathan Reigner, Pennsylvania State University

Assistant Research Professor, Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management

B. Derrick Taff, Pennsylvania State University

Assistant Professor, Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management





Regular Papers