Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Understanding the New Outdoor Recreation Paradigm in the Era of Social Media and Increasing Public Health Advisories

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  • In this dissertation, I examine emerging economic issues which intersect outdoor recreation, environmental quality, public land use, and public health advisories. First, I explore the potential impacts of social media on visitation to public land. Social media, and in particular Instagram, has been suggested by journalist and land managers as playing a substantial role in the increase in visitation to public parks starting in the mid-2010s. This increase produces a tension for state and federal land managers responsible for both providing recreation opportunities and preserving wild places. Starting with a regional (Oregon State Parks) analysis, I find Instagram did not increase visitation across all parks but only certain parks which generated high engagement with users within the app. At the national scale (U.S. National Parks), there was also a cumulative impact to parks with high Instagram activity from all past and current engaging content. I then examine the type of information which generates engagement by employing textual analysis at the national scale. I find specific points of interest, expressing sentiment about the experience and content being posted by an avid user (i.e., influencers) increases engagement significantly. Next, I examine the impacts of public health advisories on the economic value of recreational camping. Outdoor recreation is a primary avenue for households in the United States to benefit from the conservation and preservation of our natural environment. Households spend their time and money to enjoy public lands and waters through the many activities available to them. Economists have long used observations of recreation behavior to estimate the nonmarket economic value generated by such activities. Using Oregon State Parks reservation administrative data, I examine the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic risk and the impacts health advisories of air quality index on camping. I find that the economic value of camping increased over the pandemic, adding substantial welfare benefits to a camping trip ($62/day). The results suggest camping at state parks played a vital role during the global pandemic when substitutable activities (i.e., indoor activities, international travel) may have been limited due to public health considerations. Furthermore, very unhealthy air quality associated with growing wildfire seasons in the Pacific Northwest negatively impacts the consumer surplus generated through outdoor camping recreation. These findings can help inform policies surrounding public land and resource management.
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