Research Update: Technology Lends a Helping Hand: Recreation Managers Are Learning the Benefits of Using Geospatial Technologies in Resource Management

Article excerpt

The introduction of geographic information systems, or GIS, has been a momentous technological development for recreation and natural resource agencies within the last few decades. The potential for increased mapping and analytical abilities coupled with ease of access and affordability has made GIS an integral tool for planning, managing and analysis in the fields of recreation and natural resources.

Geospatial technology refers to any system that is used to acquire, store, analyze and output data in two or three dimensions. This data is referenced to the earth by some type of coordinate system such as a map projection. Geospatial systems include the Global Positioning System (GPS), remote sensing (RS) and GIS. Geospatial technologies are a particularly important group of specialized information and communication technologies that are becoming less expensive, less complex and more accessible (Clarke, 2001).

Meighen and Volger (1997) said that "recreation is a spatial activity, occurring at a specific place and time. When recreation planners calculate supply and demand, they should not overlook the spatial nature of the data."

A chief advantage to using GIS is its ability to show both the current visualization as well as past and future circumstances with divergent sets of factors efficiently and effectively. This attractive feature has encouraged the wide implementation of GIS as a primary decision-making tool among recreation resource planners and managers (Nicholls, 2001).

A second key advantage to a GIS is its ability to capture, store and manipulate spatial data and other accompanying data, which can rarely be shown in a single paper map. The existence of information in digital form allows the user to interact with the data, changing it at will to visualize the results. In the perspective of recreation resources, an example of quantitative measures would be the amount and type of amenities in an area (e.g., trail length, private land, number of toilets), the amount and characteristics of typical visitors, and qualitative information concerning the level of development of the resource (e.g. primitive, semi-developed, or hardened recreation sites) or the condition of the resource.

A third advantage of GIS is its ability to link spatial information to a database. This linkage allows for data to be updated or changed efficiently and viewable instantaneously. In addition, data doesn't need to relate to only one corresponding theme. One of the underlying principles in a GIS is the ability to overlay varied information (land use, demographic data, trails system, signage, wildlife, vegetation) for a location, so that relationships amongst these themes may be assessed.

Recreation Resource Management and GIS Applications

GIS gives an effective approach to understanding the current conditions, trends and threats to recreation resources and the consequences of proposed management actions. GIS offers the ability to improve accuracy and long-term cost-efficiency of managing natural resource areas as they apply to recreation resource management: inventory, monitoring, analysis, planning and communication.

Inventory & Monitoring

inventorying involves the identification of areas and items of interest, their location, and current condition. Inventorying was one of the initial uses of GIS and is the most common use. The first true GIS was the Canadian Geographic Information System (CGIS). It was a nationally based system for inventorying land information (Niemann & Niemann, 1999). In 1967, the state of New York produced its Land Use and Natural Resources inventory System and the state of Minnesota produced their Land Management System in 1969 (Clarke, 2001).

Typical examples of inventorying in recreation and natural resources are locations of endangered and threatened species, vegetation types, trails, signage, roads, and maintenance items. …