Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

More Visitors, Less Crowding: Change and Stability of Norms over Time at the Apostle Islands

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

More Visitors, Less Crowding: Change and Stability of Norms over Time at the Apostle Islands

Article excerpt

Crowding and carrying capacity research has been dominated by cross-sectional studies. Researchers have modeled the impact of visitor use on the quality of the outdoor recreation experience by measuring social conditions (use levels and encounters with others), psychological conditions (evaluation of encounters and perceived crowding), and social psychological conditions (encounter expectations and preferences). From these measures, one can aggregate visitor responses into a normative standard for "appropriate" use levels that can help resource managers set visitor use policy. But, what happens if these social and psychological conditions change? If management policy is informed by cross-sectional survey research, what happens if visitor composition changes, along with individual characteristics, behaviors, expectations, and experience evaluations? Are normative standards robust enough to withstand changing social conditions and processes of individual maturation and development? Or must managers constantly monitor visitor perception, and continually adjust visitor use policy because of contingent social forces and emergent individual assessments?

This study incorporates time into an analysis of crowding and carrying capacity to investigate how change affects visitor evaluations and experiences. The analysis employed three cross-sectional surveys of boaters to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin over a 22-year period, beginning in 1975 and each administered approximately 10 years apart. The study also used a 10-year panel of 1975 visitors who returned in 1985, and a 12-year panel of 1985 visitors who returned in 1997. The goal in 1975 was to document change over time at a new National Lakeshore (established in 1970), and to control for the effects of time on the way people evaluated visitor use at an area where visitor increases were anticipated. The time-series research design can document changing normative standards used to evaluate crowding, and used by managers to establish social carrying capacities at outdoor recreation sites.

Social Change and Perceived Crowding

Density, Crowding, and Time

How has the crowding literature dealt with time? The central issue in establishing recreation carrying capacities has been to identify the influence of visitor numbers (use level) on various outcome measures. Early studies found little relationship between use level and overall satisfaction (Heberlein & Vaske, 1977; Shelby & Heberlein, 1986; Shelby & Neilsen, 1976). Consequently, research turned to on-site encounters (rather than use levels) and measures of perceived crowding (rather than overall satisfaction). The presumption is that additional encounters will make visitors feel more crowded (Shelby & Heberlein, 1986). If use level increases over time, users at an area should have more encounters with others and, therefore, feel more crowded. The results, however, from cross-sectional studies show this relationship to be modest, and the findings from the few longitudinal studies in the literature are mixed.

In the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the number of hikers grew by roughly 60% between 1970 and 1982 (Lucas, 1980, 1985). Despite increased use levels, visitors did not report more encounters (1 per day in 1970 and 1.2 per day in 1982), and felt no more crowded than visitors during the low use levels 12 years earlier. On the Brule River in Wisconsin, the number of canoeists using the river declined 50% between 1975 and 1985 (Heberlein & Vaske, 1977; Heberlein & Proudrnan, 1986). Consistent with decreased use levels, 1985 canoeists reported seeing fewer other parties and felt less crowded than the 1975 visitors. On the Rogue River in Oregon, use level on the river increased by 45% over a 7-year period from 6,475 people in 1977 to 9,601 people in 1984 (Shelby & Colvin, 1979; Shelby, Bregenzer, & Johnson, 1986). Perceived crowding measures in 1977, however, did not differ significantly from measures in 1984. …

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