Putting Visitor Capacity in Perspective: A Response to the Capacity Work Group


  • Alan R. Graefe
  • Kerri Cahill
  • Jim Bacon


Visitor use planning and management, visitor capacity


This paper is a response to the previous article, Capacity Reconsidered: Finding Consensus and Clarifying Differences, by Whittaker, Shelby, Manning, Cole, and Haas. We acknowledge their valuable contribution to the 50-plus-year-old, yet ongoing and intense, dialogue on visitor capacity in parks and related protected areas. In an attempt to build on their synopsis of the current state of knowledge, we offer an alternative summary of key points, with emphasis on information that is needed to put the theoretical/scientific understanding of capacity into practice toward the goal of improved visitor use planning and management. Our “state of knowledge” includes a discussion tracing the evolution of capacity definitions over time, identification of some major milestones in the advancement of the capacity literature, and a section reviewing earlier state of knowledge/review papers on visitor capacity assessment. This part of the paper forms the basis for our subsequent evaluation of the extent to which Whittaker et al. achieved their stated goals of adding clarity, advancing understanding, and guiding application. This assessment recognizes the points of agreement and clarity provided by the authors, and suggests the “differences that remain” essentially revolve around the role of numbers in capacity planning and management. We find consensus in the view that numerical capacities are appropriate and necessary under certain conditions, and when applicable, should be couched within a broader framework including indicators, standards, and management prescriptions. Finally, we describe current efforts among the federal agencies to put the concept of capacity “in its proper and limited place” and work collectively towards good visitor use planning and management.





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