Monitoring Visitation in Georgia State Parks Using the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC)
Keywords:Race/ethnicity, SOPARC, survey, visitor use
AbstractAs new demographic groups (e.g., racial/ethnic minorities) increasingly make up larger percentages of the population, state park managers are seeking new ways to efficiently monitor these changes and sustain park visitation. Within this context, research is needed to identify strategies that help state park managers assess visitor use in order to adapt their services to meet the needs of a more diverse clientele. The System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) is one standardized, observation-based data collection strategy that could help to accomplish these goals. Although SOPARC was originally developed as a physical activity surveillance tool for municipal park settings, its use as a general park use monitoring tool on broader scales remains relatively unexplored. Using three Georgia state parks as a case study in summer 2010, this project was designed to (a) measure state park use patterns among various demographic groups using SOPARC; (b) supplement the SOPARC state park visitation data with information collected during intercept and exit surveys; and (c) explore the overall reliability, validity, and utility of SOPARC as a visitor assessment tool relative to two more conventional data collection strategies (e.g., intercept surveys and exit surveys) in state park settings. The ultimate goal of the study was to examine the feasibility of SOPARC as an efficient and effective tool for monitoring state park visitation. Three distinct data collection methods were compared: SOPARC (n = 18,525 individuals observed), intercept surveys (5,192 people surveyed), and exit surveys (1,113 vehicles surveyed). Data from the three methods revealed significant demographic differences in visitor use patterns. SOPARC was especially useful for highlighting temporal and spatial variation in high-density day use areas. Intercept and exit surveys more effectively captured variables such as activity preferences, group size, and total time in park. Reliability and validity analyses indicated that SOPARC observations yielded visitor count data that was statistically similar to counts generated via the more conventional survey methods. Findings suggest that SOPARC is an effective tool for gathering baseline state park visitor data on demographics and general site use patterns. The administration of SOPARC, conducted in isolation or in conjunction with intercept and exit surveys, represents a versatile monitoring and assessment tool that could prove to be valuable to state park managers. Given the challenging economic climate facing parks across the United States, SOPARC can provide a simple, cost-effective, and time-efficient solution to visitor use monitoring problems for state park managers with limited resources.
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