The Effect of a Vehicle Diversion Traffic Management Strategy on Spatio-Temporal Park Use: A Study in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA


  • Shannon T. Wesstrom Utah State University
  • Noah Creany Utah State University
  • Christopher Monz Utah State University
  • Anna B. Miller Utah State University
  • Ashley D'Antonio Oregon State University



Vehicle spatial patterns, park transportation, management interventions, GPS tracking, distributive flow analysis


Parks and Protected Areas (PPAs) across the Intermountain West region of the United States have observed an increasing trend in visitation in the past decade. Management of visitors’ vehicles as much as the visitors themselves has created a challenge for managers. Experiencing PPAs by personal vehicle is a popular recreation experience. However, as PPAs accommodate historic levels of visitation, the infrastructure to accommodate these vehicles is strained. In response to periods of especially high use in the summer months, Rocky Mountain National Park (ROMO) actively limits access to the Bear Lake Corridor (BLC), one of the most popular day use areas of the Park. Because of limited parking infrastructure and capacities to provide a safe and quality visitor experience, ROMO redirects (i.e., diverts) vehicles away from the BLC. In July 2017, to examine the effect of this management intervention on visitor spatial behavior, participants intending to enter the BLC were given a Geographic Positioning System (GPS) device to track their movement throughout their visit to the Park. We performed a Distributive Flow analysis with the GPS data to understand the diversion’s effect on traffic patterns of visitor vehicles diverted from the BLC. This study found that 21.2% of diverted visitor vehicles returned to the BLC after being redirected and 9% left the Park entirely, suggesting that there is a lack of substitutability for some visitors within the Park for the experience found along the BLC. During a period of redirection, Moraine Park, Endovalley, and Trail Ridge Road received increased levels of visitation as use was diffused across the Park, which may warrant increased monitoring of changes to the experiential and biophysical conditions in these locations. Diverted visitor vehicles made more stops, drove further distances and for a longer period of time than non-diverted visitor vehicles, but there was no significant difference in the length of time spent at points of interest within the  Park. While the diversion was effective in temporarily reducing congestion in the BLC, its effect on visitors’ spatial behavior suggests that overall aggregate impacts to park resources and experiential conditions may be increasing as a result.Subscribe to JPRA

Author Biographies

Shannon T. Wesstrom, Utah State University

Masters student in the Department of Environment and Society at Utah State University.

Noah Creany, Utah State University

Ph.D. student in the Department of Environment and Society at Utah State University.

Christopher Monz, Utah State University

Professor in the Department of Environment and Society and a Faculty Fellow in the Ecology Center and Institute of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism at Utah State University.

Anna B. Miller, Utah State University

Assistant Director of the Institute of Recreation and Tourism at Utah State University. 

Ashley D'Antonio, Oregon State University

Assistant Professor in Nature-based Recreation Management in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University.