Grand Expectations: Understanding Visitor Motivations and Outcome Interference in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Keywords:Conflict, crowding, displacement, goal-interference, motivations, visitor use management
National Park Service (NPS) units have seen a significant increase in visitation in recent years. From 2014 to 2016, Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) experienced a 17% increase in recreational visits. Managing for increased use, driven partially by new and novel types of recreation activities, is a growing issue of concern for the NPS. This study uses a qualitative approach to examine how emerging activity types paired with increased visitor use in GTNP’s popular String and Leigh Lakes (SLL) area may lead to outcome interference among park visitors. An influx of novel uses, such as paddleboarding, to an area that is already popular for a myriad of recreation activities, including canoeing, picnicking, and day hiking, adds a layer of complexity to the management of the lakes. This increase in visitation and activity diversity, combined with limited vehicle access and parking, is creating an environment in which crowding and displacement of visitors is occurring.
Using the recreational opportunity demand hierarchy (RODH) and an outcomes-focused management (OFM) framework, this study explores visitor activities, settings, and motivations, as well as possible outcome-interfering variables that may interfere with benefit-achievement. To inform this effort, 62 semi-structured interviews were compiled using a random-sampling technique in the SLL area during the summer of 2017. Data were analyzed using a blind coding technique and results suggest that conflict, crowding, and displacement are possible outcome-interfering variables that can be targeted in future research and monitoring efforts in the SLL area and beyond. The results also indicate that visitors react rationally to previous recreational outcomes. Additionally, we examine how our results can address common critiques of OFM. Finally, we propose a new iteration of the RODH, the rational recreation demand hierarchy (RRDH), in which outcomes direct future recreational decisions. The findings of this study and the updated outcomes-focused framework provide a variety of implications to managers. These include the management of outcomes and outcome-interfering variables as indicators of quality, a means of conceptualizing how outcome-achievement influences future decision-making concerning recreational activities and settings, and the treatment of protected area visitors as rational decision makers. Additionally, this study provides a vignette of how increased visitation, a phenomenon widely reported across US national parks, influences visitor experience.
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