Changes in Bridger Wilderness Visitors’ Experiences of Crowding and Attitudes toward Management from 1969 to 2010


  • Troy Hall University of Idaho
  • Andrea Davidson US Forest Service


crowding, experience quality, wilderness management, wilderness purism, trends


Researchers and recreation managers often speculate about whether visitor experiences and attitudes toward management have changed over time, given changes observed in society, recreation, and use of protected areas, but longitudinal studies remain scarce. This paper reports findings of a 2010 replication of seminal wilderness visitor research conducted in 1969 in the Bridger Wilderness, Wyoming, using self-administered exit questionnaires. We examined whether there have been changes in reactions to social conditions (encounters and crowding), agreement with basic purposes and characteristics of wilderness (purism), and support for different recreation management practices. Visitors in 2010 were less purist in their views about most wilderness characteristics and the desire for solitude, but they were more purist regarding stocking nonnative species. However, these differences were small, and purism levels remained quite high. There was no change in the number of selfreported encounters with other groups or the percentage of visitors who reported that the wilderness was too crowded, but 2010 visitors were less supportive of restrictions on use than 1969 visitors. Regression analysis to explore predictors of crowding and management attitudes showed trip length, trip type (private vs. organized group), and age were, with few exceptions, unrelated to crowding or support for different management options. In both years, purism was positively related to support for restrictions on recreational use and negatively related to support for recreational improvements. Purists were more likely to react negatively to different hypothetical encounter scenarios in both years, but less so in 2010 than in 1969. On the other hand, purism showed no relationship to the actual experience of crowding on the current trip. Findings suggest that how questions about crowding are worded (as hypothetical desires vs. actual experience) can significantly affect conclusions about visitor experiences. They also show that relationships traditionally thought to be strong (e.g., between encounters and crowding) may be weakening over time.

Author Biography

Andrea Davidson, US Forest Service

Bridger-Teton National Forest





Regular Papers