Benefits and Challenges of Computer Simulation Modeling of Backcountry Recreation Use in the Desolation Lake Area of the John Muir Wilderness

Article excerpt

This paper describes the development and application of a computer-based simulation model of recreational use in the John Muir Wilderness Area in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, USA. The results of the study demonstrate, conceptually, how simulation modeling can be used as a tool for understanding existing visitor use patterns within the John Muir Wilderness Area, estimating the impact of increasing visitor use levels on management objectives, and evaluating the effects of alternative policy decisions on visitor flows and visitor use conditions. This study also identifies and discusses potential challenges of applying computer simulation to backcountry recreation management and provides recommendations for further research to address these issues.

KEYWORDS: Visitor flows, monitoring, wilderness management, Limits of Acceptable Change, crowding.

Introduction

In the United States, legislation dictates that Wilderness areas should be managed to, among other things, provide recreational visitors with "opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation" (Hendee & Dawson, 2002). However, the growing popularity of outdoor recreation in backcountry settings threatens the ability of wilderness managers to achieve these objectives. For example, increasing recreational use of wilderness areas can result in perceived crowding and increasing conflict among different types of users (e.g., hikers and packstock; Manning, 1999). These problems are exacerbated by the fact that backcountry recreation use tends to be concentrated both spatially and temporally (Hendee & Dawson, 2002; Lucas, 1980). For example, most wilderness areas are used most heavily during the summer, and within the summer months, use can be heavier on the weekends than during weekdays. Similarly, recreational use tends to concentrate geographically along established hiking trails/routes, along the periphery rather than within the interior of an area, and close to desirable natural features (e.g., water bodies, scenic views).

Rules and regulations designed to manage recreation-related impacts such as crowding, conflict, and damage to natural resources can diminish visitors' sense of spontaneity and freedom, thus eroding the primitive and unconfined nature of the wilderness experience (Cole, Peterson, & Lucas, 1987). Managers are faced with the challenge of preventing and mitigating recreation-related impacts to wilderness with the most unobtrusive, indirect, light-handed means possible (Hendee & Dawson, 2002). That is, managers are expected to identify the "minimum tool" required to achieve desired conditions within wilderness. Consequently, decisions about how to manage recreational use of wilderness are complex.

Recent research suggests that computer-based simulation modeling is an effective tool for helping to address the challenges associated with managing visitor use in backcountry and wilderness settings (Daniel & Gimblett, 2000; Gimblett, Richards, & Itami, 2000; Lawson & Manning, 2003a, 2003b; Lawson, Manning, Valliere, & Wang, 2003; Lawson, Mayo-Kiely, & Manning, 2003; van Wagtendonk, 2003; Wang & Manning, 1999). For example, simulation modeling can be used to describe and understand existing visitor use conditions that are inherently difficult to observe. That is, given current management practices and existing levels of visitor use, where and when is visitor use occurring? By providing managers with detailed information about how visitors are currently using the area, this baseline information can assist managers in identifying "trouble spots" or "bottlenecks," as well as areas that may be capable of accommodating additional use. Simulation modeling can also be used to monitor the condition of "hard to measure" indicator variables (Lawson, Manning, Valliere, & Wang, 2003; Wang & Manning, 1999). For example, how many encounters do backpacking visitors have with other groups per day while hiking? …