Are Recreation Organizations Representative of All Participants?


  • Bruce E. Lord
  • William F. Elmendorf


Recreation, planning, interest groups, clubs, ATV


The leaders of interest groups, clubs, and other recreation organizations are often asked by public agencies to participate in the recreation planning process. The leaders of these organizations are presumed to be in touch with the needs and attitudes of their membership and, by extension, with the needs and attitudes of all those who enjoy similar activities. In Pennsylvania, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources relies upon the Snowmobile and ATV Advisory Committee to provide input into the management of ATV usage in the Commonwealth. This committee includes representatives of ATV organizations. Past research (Ayres & Potter, 1989; Burby, 2003; Luloff & Hodges, 1992; Meir & Nigro, 1976) has shown that representative government works best when the needs and attitudes of all constituents are considered. Bureaucracies that rely solely on the advice of active interest groups risk difficulties ranging from general lack of support to possible conflict, legal concerns, and efforts to block actions. This research was conducted to alert public agency planners and the representatives of interest groups advising them of the need to guard against potential biases and to ascertain that the needs of all segments of the recreating community are considered. The results of this study highlight the importance of using truly participatory approaches to decision making that consider the needs of all riders when formulating policy. A mail survey was sent to a sample of registered ATV owners in Pennsylvania to determine the needs of ATV owners and their attitudes toward issues affecting ATV usage in Pennsylvania. Only 8.5% of the registered ATV owners were members of an ATV organization. The needs and opinions of members of ATV organizations were often significantly different from non-member registered ATV owners. They were significantly more likely than non-members to view new trails, secondary road access, and long trail opportunities as very important. Non-members were more likely to view flat and wide trails as important; while members tended to place increased importance on more challenging riding opportunities. These differences were also reflected in opinions toward the length of ride, with club members being more likely than non-members to desire weekend and other multiple-day riding opportunities. It is natural that the people inclined to join an ATV organization would be more involved in this activity and consequently desire different riding experiences. The larger group of non-member ATV owners expressed a much weaker desire for more strenuous and involved experiences. As the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources moves forward with planning for motorized recreation, it behooves them to consider the attitudes and needs of all users through such methods as the comprehensive survey utilized here. In addition, it behooves the leaders of the interest groups to ensure that their advice represents the needs of the greater community.?





Regular Papers