- In the last decade, many U.S. parks and protected areas (PPA) experienced record breaking visitation levels. Managers of these PPAs face the challenging task of providing a range of quality and accessible outdoor experiences without compromising the integrity and health of surrounding ecosystems. Understanding how PPA visitors move and interact with one another throughout a landscape serves as a foundational tenant toward informing adaptive and effective visitor use management frameworks. Spatial data representing recreationist movement patterns provides critical information on visitor use and flow, and can highlight areas that may be prone to resource degradation, crowding, or user conflicts. More powerfully, spatial data can be leveraged with social, managerial, and biophysical information to provide an inter-disciplinary understanding of the drivers and consequences of recreation use.
Multi-use destinations in PPAs that offer a mix of land and water-based activities represent some of the most sought-after recreation sites, particularly in the summer months. These sites often contain lakes, rivers, and coastal areas with open shorelines and adjacent trail networks. Despite the prevalence of these mixed-use sites, the majority of integrative spatial research efforts have occurred solely within terrestrial recreation settings. Very few spatial studies have examined mixed-use aquatic recreation locations. This type of research is greatly needed as water-users often produce distinctive impacts to ecological resources and develop unique outdoor experiences and outcomes. Furthermore, to date, there has been no empirical investigation of an emergent, yet highly popular, water-based activity: stand-up paddleboarding.
This Master’s thesis employed cross-disciplinary, mixed-method approaches to explore the spatial behaviors, experiences, and impacts of land and water-based recreationists at a popular PPA lake destination in Grand Teton National Park, WY, USA. During the summer of 2018, a random sample of visitors were asked to participate in a pre- and post-survey and carry a handheld GPS unit throughout their day-visit to the recreation site. To obtain biophysical data, this research utilized a high resolution GPS device to identify and map recreation-related resource impacts within study site. In total, 577 GPS tracks were collected with corresponding survey and biophysical information.
The first empirical chapter explored density dependent factors influencing visitor spatiotemporal behavior between two primary user groups: land-based recreationists and water-based recreationists. Results showed that despite having the ability to disperse, behavior became more concentrated at medium and high-use times. Additionally, findings indicated that water-users and land-users utilized the system differently at varying use levels. This chapter serves as one of the first to examine and compare spatiotemporal response to visitor densities across multiple activity types. Furthermore, findings provide insights into the implications of crowding, displacement, and dispersal within a densely populated PPA recreation site.
The second empirical chapter compared the spatial behaviors of non-motorized, paddlesport users: stand-up paddleboarders, canoers, and kayakers. Statistical classification procedures built a typology of water-users based on observed spatiotemporal behaviors. Findings identified distinctions in behavior across paddling activity types, highlighting implications for resource protection and visitor flow. Integrating spatial data with survey and biophysical information revealed numerous drivers and impacts of spatial movement. For example, the motivation to escape and experience natural beauty corresponded to traveling further distances, while higher group sizes and prolonged shoreline exposure aligned with concentrated movement near parking lots and facilities. These findings contribute novel information on paddlesport spatial behavior and experience in PPAs, especially given the emergence of stand-up paddleboarding. Ultimately, the methods and findings from both research chapters responds to a growing call in PPA research to incorporate spatial approaches to research designs, particularly within aquatic recreation settings. Results contribute to theoretical and practical knowledge of recreationist movement and experience across a more representative range of PPAs.