Developing a Capacity Building, Operational Model of a Sustainable Recreation Program


  • Steven W. Selin West Virginia University
  • Jeremy Golston
  • Francisco Valenzuela



Sustainable recreation, operational model, sustainability, Forest Service, implementation, capacity building


Integrating sustainability concepts, tools, and best practices across the outdoor recreation and park profession has gained momentum over the past three decades.  However, missing from the professional and scientific literature have been action-oriented and evaluative research focused on “how” sustainability is being operationalized in the field.  Through a qualitative research design focused on the 11 National Forests of the Southwestern Region of the USDA Forest Service, we developed an operational model for how sustainable recreation is being implemented at the Forest level through the Sustainable Recreation Strategy. Data collection included document analysis, stakeholder interviews, and personal observation. Document analysis included a content analysis methodology of 11 Forest-level Sustainable Recreation Action Plans, the principal planning process used to implement the vision and goals set forth by the Regional Sustainable Recreation Strategy. Evidence from the study was used to develop a grounded operational model with three foundational areas of Program, Agency, and Community. Foundational areas were further elaborated into component areas—Program into workforce, communications, outdoor recreation management, financial management, and information management systems—Agency into leadership support, administrative support, and integrated resource management—and Community into partnerships, volunteer program, and conservation education. Operational models such as this can help recreation managers, agency leaders, and policymakers adjust systems, structures, and roles to build program capacity and accelerate program transition towards sustainability. 

Author Biography

Steven W. Selin, West Virginia University

Professor of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism