Research to Guide Management of Backcountry Camping at Isle Royale National Park: Part 1—Descriptive Research


  • Steven R. Lawson
  • Robert E. Manning


Isle Royale National Park, simulation modeling, wilderness, wilderness management, backcountry camping, indicators and standards of quality, carrying capacity


This paper is the first in a sequence of two papers that report on descriptive and prescriptive research undertaken at Isle Royale National Park to support development of a new wilderness management plan at the Park. The present paper reports on the first phase of study aimed at developing descriptive information on backcountry camping at Isle Royale. This information includes the relationship between number and spatiotemporal distribution of camping groups and amount of campsite sharing, as well as the potential effectiveness of alternative management practices designed to reduce campsite sharing. A computer simulation model of backcountry camping was developed for this purpose. The second paper reports on the prescriptive phase of the research that focused on visitor preferences among alternative management scenarios designed to reduce campsite sharing. Findings from the first, descriptive phase of research were used to identify a set of feasible, realistic management scenarios that could be incorporated into the second, prescriptive phase of research.The study results suggest that under the Park’s current management approach, an average of about 9% of groups are required to share campsites per night during July and August, with 24% sharing during the busiest two weeks of this period. Further, the results suggest that the Park would need to reduce visitor use during July and August by nearly 25% to ensure that an average of no more than 5% of groups share campsites per night. The model estimates that by instituting a fixed itinerary system, the Park could issue approximately 30% more permits than they did during the 2001 visitor use season, while at the same time virtually eliminating campsite sharing. The results of several other management simulations are presented and discussed in the paper, including campsite construction and spatial and temporal redistribution of visitor use.The computer simulation model developed in this study provides park managers with a tool to assess the effectiveness and consequences of management alternatives in a manner that may be more cost-effective, less labor-intensive, more comprehensive, and less politically risky than on-theground, trial-and-error approaches. Further, the research presented in this sequence of papers provides a model for integrating descriptive and prescriptive research findings into the planning and management of parks and wilderness.





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