Assessing National Forest Visitors’ Comprehension of International Symbols for Communicating Outdoor Recreation Messages


  • Deborah J. Chavez
  • Nancy E. Knap
  • Deanne G. McCollum


Communication, international symbols, outdoor recreation, race and ethnicity, recreation signs


The purpose of this research was to evaluate recreationists’ comprehension of International Symbols used on the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests in southern California. Data were collected from 262 recreationists during the summer months 2002. Bilingual teams administered the survey using instruments available in English and Spanish. The 20 International Symbols used in the study included 13 from on-line sources and seven Forest-produced symbols. Each unique response for the symbols was coded for level of correctness by two independent coders using the International Standards Organization (ISO) standard adapted for this study. Judges placed responses into seven “levels of correctness” categories: 1) correct understanding of the symbol is certain; 2) correct understanding of the symbol is likely; 3) correct understanding of the symbol is marginally likely; 4) the meaning which is conveyed is the opposite to that intended; 5) the response is wrong; 6) the response given is “do not know”; and 7) no response is given. Any disagreement in coding was resolved by a third independent coder. The average age of respondents was 37 years, and the average number years of education was about 12. Most respondents were Latino, and most respondents were recreating with family and/or friends and were on a repeat visit to the site. Activities usually engaged in were picnicking, relaxing, hiking, and camping. Eleven of the 20 symbols in the study were considered well understood, with a high percentage of respondents correctly comprehending them. At least two-thirds of respondents were able to name the activity/facility/rule to which the symbol was referring [these symbols were for Fishing, Swimming, Restrooms, Horse Trail, No Fireworks, Picnic Area, No Trucks, Hiking Trail, Camping (Tent), Drown Campfires, and Hikers]. These require no further management action. Of the remaining nine symbols, three were moderately understood (fewer than two-thirds but more than one-third of the respondents correctly comprehended them), and six were misunderstood (fewer than one-third of respondents correctly comprehended them). The three moderately understood symbols probably need modification to clarify the intended message—perhaps these should be used only if there is accompanying text (these were Off-road Vehicle Trail, Information, and Automobiles Permitted). The six misunderstood symbols (No Alcohol, No Charcoal Grills, Amphitheater, Carry Water Back to Site, Fish Hatchery and Conserve Water) require major modification or discontinued use.





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