Operationalizing Sustainable Recreation across the National Forest System: A Qualitative Content Analysis of Six Regional Strategies


  • Steven W. Selin West Virginia University




Sustainability, Recreation, Parks, Operational, Forest Service, Content Analysis, Qualitative Research


Sustainability, as an institutional and professional goal has gained momentum in the parks and recreation field over the past two decades. The scholarly literature has been dominated by articles contributing science-based management frameworks to inform agency decisions about sustainability.  Needed also are action-oriented, case study research or evaluation studies where the objective is to inductively generate grounded theory and best management practices by studying the phenomena in action. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to analyze the USDA Forest Services’ institutional goal of operationalizing Sustainable Recreation across the National Forest System.  This study goal is informed by a literature synthesis of research focused on sustainable science, sustainability constraints, and institutional change and transformation as well as background on the Forest Services’ Framework for Sustainable Recreation. The objectives of this research study were to develop a deeper understanding of the contextual factors, vision and goals, action steps, and performance measures associated with the Forest Services’ operationalizing of their national Framework for Sustainable Recreation. Given the action-oriented and applied focus agenda of this research, the research study employed a conventional, qualitative content analysis methodology to analyze six Regional Sustainable Recreation Strategies. Results from this qualitative content analysis provide an empirical window into how the USDA Forest Service is mobilizing to integrate sustainability into their managed recreation operations. Study results elaborate two contrasting visions for managed recreation in the Forest Service—one a more limited vision of operating within agency budgetary limits and the other a more expansive vision of investing in the managed recreation program. The regional Sustainable Recreation Strategies studied here also varied considerably in the level of specificity directed towards the forest-level operationalizing of sustainable recreation objectives and priority action steps.  Study results also suggest that operationalizing sustainable recreation across the National Forest System will result in new types of recreation service delivery partnerships with external stakeholder groups to leverage scarce public dollars and to improve the level of service. Finally, there was little mention in the Framework for Sustainable Recreation or the six regional strategies analyzed here for the contribution of management-science partnerships. Regional or national forums are needed that convene managers and scientists to develop an action-oriented science agenda for operationalizing sustainable recreation across the National Forest System. These same collaborative forums could benefit managers of other public recreation lands and the parks and recreation field collectively.Subscribe to JPRA

Author Biography

Steven W. Selin, West Virginia University

Professor of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism





Regular Papers