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Visitors’ Views of Leave No Trace Principles across a National Park, a National Forest, and Three State Parks

Cassandra Lee Backman, Jerry J. Vaske, Ben Lawhon, Wade M. Vagias, Peter Newman, Evan Coulson, B. Derrick Taff


There is rising concern that increases in visitor numbers could negatively affect natural resources within protected natural areas. This has raised questions regarding the effectiveness of indirect management strategies in reducing depreciative behaviors among visitors across different natural resource settings. Leave No Trace (LNT), which focuses on indirect management tactics, is an educational program adopted by parks and forests for reducing visitor impacts. LNT promotes stewardship using seven guiding principles: (a) plan ahead and prepare, (b) travel and camp on durable surfaces, (c) dispose of waste properly, (d) leave what you find, (e) minimize campfire impacts, (f) respect wildlife, and (g) be considerate of other visitors. These principles were developed for wilderness settings but have been revised to apply to backcountry and frontcountry areas. This article examined the use of LNT practices in three different natural resource settings and attempts to contribute to this knowledge gap. Data for this article were obtained from on-site surveys in a national park (Rocky Mountain National Park), a national forest (Shawnee National Forest) and three state parks in Wyoming (Glendo, Curt Gowdy, Wyoming Territorial Prison Historic Site). Standardized questions were developed to examine the four topics: (a) appropriateness of LNT principles, (b) difficulty to perform LNT, (c) perceived control over LNT behaviors, and (d) behavioral intentions relative to LNT principles. Results revealed that across the three settings visitors’ responses within each topic aligned with LNT principles. However, compared to national forest and state park visitors, national park visitors were the least likely to view LNT principles as appropriate yet most likely to indicate that they behave in accordance with LNT guidance. There were no differences among visitors to the three settings regarding perceived difficulty of performing LNT practices. It is unclear if these findings are applicable to other parks and forests— researchers are encouraged to replicate this work in a range of outdoor settings. By understanding differences between visitors to different natural settings, managers and educators can improve the efficacy of LNT messaging to individual natural resource settings, increase the adoption of Leave No Trace practices, and decrease depreciation of natural resources.

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Leave no trace; minimal impact behaviors; national forests; national parks; state parks; visitor management

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