Evolving Adventure Pursuits on Public Lands: Emerging Challenges for Management and Public Policy


  • Alan Ewert
  • Aram Attarian
  • Steve Hollenhorst
  • Keith Russell
  • Alison Voight


Adventure pursuits, extreme sports, therapeutic wilderness, policy making, natural resource management


Within the past three decades, adventure pursuits on public lands have grown, both in terms of overall popularity and activity diversity. Due to their high dependence upon large, undeveloped landscapes, participants often look to public land resources as the venue for these activities. As demands for these activities increase, significant policy and management challenges requiring systematic knowledge and understanding of these new users groups, the types of experiences they are seeking and the demands they place on the public land manager has been the outcome. In particular, two prominent adventure-related categories of activities have evolved: extreme sports and the use of the public lands for therapeutic programs. Within this context, this paper discusses current and emerging trends and issues, definitions, and structural characteristics of various participants, the relationship between selected participant attributes (such as level of experience and demands on management) and the social benefits of participation, including therapeutic and personal growth. In addition, salient issues related to the management of public lands involving these varied user groups are discussed which inevitably involve elevated user conflict and disputes regarding the right of access to these public lands. Related to the issue of conflict are the concepts of allowable activities and allowable technologies, and whether or not these entities should be permitted on certain public lands. Regardless of how public lands are managed, the exclusion of certain activities will create unforeseen and unwanted results. As the debate surrounding the increased use of adventure pursuits on public lands becomes more politicized, managers and user groups will need to determine acceptable collaborations in which the concerns of all stakeholders are addressed and validated. Continued research regarding the importance of evolving impacts will be essential in the ongoing struggle for balance between use and conservation of wilderness areas, and the pivotal role of stewardship of our public lands.





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