Crowding in Parks and Outdoor Recreation: A Theoretical, Empirical, and Managerial Analysis


  • Robert Manning
  • William Valliere
  • Ben Minteer
  • Benjamin Wang
  • Charles Jacobi


Crowding is a perennial and challenging issue in the management of parks and outdoor recreation. However, a substantial scientific literature has been developed on crowding and its application in parks and outdoor recreation. This paper begins by reviewing theoretical research on crowding, with special emphasis on normative theory. Normative theory makes an important distinction between use level and crowding, outlines variables that influence crowding judgements, and suggests that visitors to parks and outdoor recreation areas may have normative standards regarding appropriate use levels of such areas. A second section of the paper empirically applies this theoretical framework to the carriage roads of Acadia National Park, Maine. Normative standards of visitors for appropriate use levels are measured, and variables that influence crowding are illustrated, including type of visitor, type of visitor encountered, and section of the carriage roads. A final section of the paper explores the management implications of theoretical and empirical crowding research, and their application to the carriage roads. Managers must be careful to determine when increasing use of parks and related areas is judged by visitors as “crowding”, and how crowding manifests itself in a variety of outdoor recreation contexts. Approaches to managing crowding include measurement of crowding norms; application of crowding and related carrying capacity frameworks, including Limits of Acceptable Change, Visitor Impact Management, and Visitor Experience and Resource Protection; formulation of crowding-related standards of quality, and related restrictions on public use; zoning conflicting uses; educational programs designed to modify visitor behavior; and provision of a diversity of recreation opportunities.





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