Managing Visitor Impacts in Parks: A Multi-Method Study of the Effectiveness of Alternative Management Practices
Keywords:Visitor impacts, management practices, observations, visitor survey, Acadia National Park
AbstractHow can recreation use be managed to control associated environmental impacts? What management practices are most effective and why? This study explored these and related questions through a series of experimental “treatments” and associated “controls” at the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, a heavily used and environmentally fragile area. The treatments included five management practices designed to keep visitors on maintained trails, and these practices ranged from “indirect” (information/education) to “direct” (a fence bordering the trail). Research methods included unobtrusive observation of visitors to determine the percentage of visitors who walked off-trail and a follow-up visitor survey to explore why management practices did or didn’t work. All of the management practices reduced the percentage of visitors who walked off-trail. More aggressive applications of indirect practices were more effective than less aggressive applications, and the direct management practice of fencing was the most effective of all. None of the indirect management practices reduced walking off-trail to a degree that is likely to control damage to soil and vegetation at the study site. Study findings suggest that an integrated suite of direct and indirect management practices be implemented on Cadillac Mountain (and other, similar sites) that includes a) a regulation requiring visitors to stay on the maintained trail, b) enforcement of this regulation as needed, c) unobtrusive fencing along the margins of the trail, d) redesign of the trail to extend it, widen it in key places, and provide short spur trails to key “photo points”, and e) an aggressive information/education program to inform visitors of the regulation to stay on the trail and the reasons for it. These recommendations are a manifestation of what may be an emerging principle of park and outdoor recreation management: intensive use requires intensive management.?
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