Coping in Outdoor Recreation: Causes and Consequences of Crowding and Conflict among Community Residents

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Crowding and conflict are among the most fundamental and intensively studied issues in outdoor recreation. As the number and diversity of visitors to parks and outdoor recreation areas has risen over the past several decades, so has concern over the potential effects of these trends on the quality of outdoor recreation experiences. Research on crowding and conflict suggests the complex nature of these topics. In particular, empirical research has often found that visitor satisfaction may remain relatively high even when use levels of a park or related area increase (see, for example, Manning 1999, Table 5-3). A possible explanation of these findings suggests that some recreationists may adopt one of several coping mechanisms in response to crowding and/or conflict. For example, if some visitors "cope" with crowding and conflict through the process of "displacement" (e.g., they don't go to that park as often, or stop going altogether), then those visitors may not be present to register their dissatisfaction. M oreover, such visitors may ultimately be replaced (or "displaced") by visitors who are not as sensitive to increased use levels. In this way, use levels may continue to increase, and visitor satisfaction (at least as it is commonly measured through on-site surveys) may continue to be high.

Coping is a widely used concept in psychology and is generally defined as "any behavior, whether deliberate or not, that reduces stress and enables a person to deal with a situation without excessive stress" (Sutherland 1996). A number of coping mechanisms have been identified in the general crowding literature (Altman 1975). The classic work of Milgram (1970), for instance, has illustrated the ways in which urban residents cope with excessive population density--brusque conversations, unlisted telephones, and disregard of strangers, even when they may be in need. The literature on outdoor recreation has identified a number of coping mechanisms that might be used by recreationists to deal with crowding and conflict, including shifting use to other locations and/or times and redefining appropriate outdoor recreation experiences.

The purpose of this paper is to further explore the use of coping mechanisms in outdoor recreation. More specifically, the objectives of the study are to 1) measure perceived changes in the amount and type of recreation use that has occurred at a major national park, 2) measure the extent to which a variety of coping mechanisms have been adopted by visitors to that national park and 3) analyze the relationships among perceived changes in recreation use and adoption of selected coping mechanisms to explore how perceived changes in the amount and type of recreation use may influence the adoption of selected coping mechanisms. The study focuses on the carriage roads of Acadia National Park, a system of multiple use trails, and is applied to residents of communities in and around the park.

Coping in Outdoor Recreation

The literature on coping in outdoor recreation suggests that outdoor recreationists may utilize three primary coping mechanisms: displacement, rationalization, and product shift (see Manning 1999, Chapter 5 for a review and synthesis of the literature on coping in outdoor recreation). While most conceptual and empirical studies have focused attention on coping mechanisms within the context of crowding, recent research has suggested that recreation visitors may also adopt coping strategies to deal with problems of conflict (Schneider and Hammitt 1995) (1). Displacement is a behavioral coping mechanism in that it involves spatial or temporal changes in use patterns in response to crowding or conflict. Rationalization and product shift are cognitive coping mechanisms involving changes in the ways visitors think about recreation experiences and opportunities.


A number of studies have suggested that as use levels increase, some recreationists may become dissatisfied and alter their patterns of recreation activity to avoid crowding, perhaps ultimately moving on to less used areas (see, for example, Anderson and Brown 1984; Shelby et al. …