Use of Visual Research Methods to Measure Standards of Quality for Parks and Outdoor Recreation

Article excerpt

Introduction

Visual research methods have played an important role in environmental science and natural resource management for many years (Daniel & Boster, 1976; Ribe, 1989; Shuttleworth, 1980) and have been adapted for use in several dimensions of recreation-related research. For example, visual approaches have been used in studies assessing the aesthetic implications of forest harvesting and insect damage (Hollenhorst, Brock, Freimund, & Twery, 1993; McCool, Benson, & Ashor, 1986), the value of campground attributes (Daniel, Brown, King, Richards, & Stewart, 1989), litter impacts (Budruk & Manning, 2004; Heywood & Murdock, 2002), and recreation participation (Brown, Richards, Daniel, & King, 1989). The use of visual images, including slides and photographs, has been widely validated in the scientific literature (Bateson & Hui, 1992; Daniel & Boster, 1976; Daniel & Ittelson, 1981; Daniel & Meitner, 2001; Hershberger & Cass, 1974; Hull & Stewart, 1992; Kellomaki & Savolianen, 1984; Stamps, 1990).

The technology to develop visual representations of landscape settings has increased dramatically in the past twenty years. Computer aided design (CAD), geographic information systems (GIS), and virtual reality (VR) can effectively be run from laptop computers rather than the mainframes that were needed 10-20 years ago. Advances in digital cameras and photo editing software such as Adobe PhotoShop provide both the resolution and editorial control that, in experienced hands, can result in edited images that are virtually indistinguishable from original photographs or slides. These widely accessible tools allow extremely realistic and accurate depictions of potential settings and future conditions, in a format that is familiar and easily understood.

Visual research methods have recently been adapted and incorporated into measuring standards of quality in parks and outdoor recreation. Standards of quality have become an increasingly important element of park and outdoor recreation research and management in recent years, and visual research methods have been found useful in measuring and helping formulate such standards. This paper reviews and assesses the adoption and use of visual research methods in measuring standards of quality for parks and outdoor recreation.

Standards of Quality in Parks and Outdoor Recreation

Standards of quality have emerged in recent decades as an important element of planning and managing parks and outdoor recreation. Standards of quality define minimum acceptable conditions of the resource and social components of parks and outdoor recreation areas (Manning, 1999). For example, standards of quality might be set for recreation-related impacts to backcountry campsites or for the number of groups encountered per day along backcountry trails. Such standards of quality can be useful in empirically defining desired future conditions and evaluating the need for and effectiveness of management actions to control the impacts of recreation use. The concept of standards of quality has been explicitly adopted into contemporary park and outdoor recreation planning and management frameworks, including Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) (Stankey, Cole, Lucas, Peterson, Frissell, & Washburne, 1985) and Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP) (National Park Service, 1997; Manning, 2001).

However, formulating standards of quality can be challenging. Standards may be based on a variety of sources, including legal and administrative mandates, agency policy, historic precedent, expert judgement, interest group politics, and public opinion, especially that derived from outdoor recreation visitors. This latter source has special appeal because it involves those most directly interested in and affected by management actions.

Research on visitor-based standards of quality increasingly has focused on personal and social norms. …