Spatial Strategies For Managing Visitor Impacts In National Parks


  • Yu-Fai Leung
  • Jeffrey L. Marion


Visitor impacts, management strategies, spatial concepts, backcountry use, national parks


Resource and social impacts caused by recreationists and tourists have become a management concern in national parks and equivalent protected areas. The need to contain visitor impacts within acceptable limits has prompted park and protected area managers to implement a wide variety of strategies and actions, many of which are spatial in nature. Tlus paper classifies and illustrates the basic spatial strategies for managing visitor impacts in parks and protected areas.

A typology of four spatial strategies was proposed based on the recreation and park management literature. Spatial segregation is a common strategy for shielding sensitive resources from visitor impacts or for separating potentially conflicting types of use. Two forms of spatial segregation are zoning and closure. A spatial containment strategy is intended to minimize the aggregate extent of visitor impacts by confining use to limited designated or established locations. In contrast, a spatial dispersal strategy seeks to spread visitor use, reducing the frequency of use to levels that avoid or minimize permanent resource impacts or visitor crowding and conflict. Finally, a spatial configuration strategy minimizes impacting visitor behavior through the judicious spatial arrangement of facilities. These four spatial strategies can be implemented separately or in combination at varying spatial scales within a single park.

A survey of national park managers provides an empirical example of the diversity of implemented spatial strategies in managing visitor impacts. Spatial segregation is frequendy applied in the form of camping restrictions or closures to protect sensitive natural or cultural resources and to separate incompatible visitor activities. Spatial containment is the most widely applied strategy for minimizing the areal extent of resource impacts. Spatial dispersal is commonly applied to reduce visitor crowding or conflicts in popular destination areas but is less frequendy applied or effective in minimizing resource impacts. Spatial configuration was only minimally evaluated, as it was not included in the survey.

The proposed typology of spatial strategies offers a useful means of organizing and understanding the wide variety of management strategies and actions applied to managing visitor impacts in parks and protected areas. Examples from U.S. national parks demonstrate the diversity of these basic strategies and their flexibility in implementation at various spatial scales. Documentation of these examples helps illustrate their application and inform managers of the multitude of options. Further analysis from the spatial perspective is needed to extend the applicability of this typology to other recreational activities and management issues.





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