Influence of Ecological Impacts and Other Campsite Characteristics on Wilderness Visitors’ Campsite Choices


  • Dave D. White
  • Troy E. Hall
  • Tracy A. Farrell


Recreational use of wilderness inevitably results in some change to resource conditions, and managers should consider both the ecological significance and social acceptability of such changes. Despite a growing body of research documenting recreation impacts, we still know very little about people’s perceptions of resource conditions at campsites. This information is important for ensuring managerial effectiveness, selecting management indicators and standards, and understanding visitor behavior. This paper examines factors that influenced visitors’ campsite choices at two lakes in Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, especially the effect of ecological impacts.Prior research suggests that visitors perceive ecological impacts and are affected by them. However, many studies have relied on abstract or hypothetical survey questions that fail to capture important contextual influences. Also, questions use inherently leading wording such as “vegetation damage” that may prime visitors to notice and negatively evaluate impacts and report that impacts affect their behavior. The few on-site, open-ended surveys or observational studies that have been done tend to contradict closed-ended survey findings.We conducted open-ended, semi-structured interviews with 51 groups at their campsites in the summer of 1999. Interviews included general questions about site-selection criteria and perceptions of overall site conditions, as well as focused questions about vegetation, tree, and soil conditions, and their effect on site selection. Two coders analyzed the interview transcripts to develop theoretically relevant categories of responses (the inter-coder reliability index was .82).Criteria for site choice were classified in line with prior research as locational features, social conditions, ecological impacts, scenic features, and managerial conditions. The most important factors were locational, especially proximity to water and trails, and social conditions, especially privacy. Ecological impacts, such as large core areas denuded of vegetation, were usually interpreted by campers as amenities that contributed to a site’s desirability. Our findings indicate that for most visitors in our study, perception and negative evaluations of impacts did not play an important role in campsite selection.





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