Build beautiful forests and they will come.
It sounds simple, but forest officials often wonder what
features make public wooded areas appealing to visitors.
Two researchers from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
believe they have found some answers - through special studies on
"People think beauty is an intangible quality found in the eye
of the beholder, but there's a way to measure it," said SIUC
psychologist John Hetherington, a researcher on the project. "And
the general public has a good grasp of what's attractive and what
they want to see in their forests."
For 10 years, Hetherington has researched scenic attractiveness
through a psychophysical approach, which systematically relates
people's reactions to forests to the landscape's appearance.
"If there needs to be some kind of timber management and the
perception is negative, then the (U.S.) Forest Service needs to
know about it," he said. And the Forest Service isn't only using
this research to develop a good business relationship with park
visitors. It's the law.
In 1969, Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act,
requiring, among other things, that forest managers prepare impact
statements for their actions.
This spring, Hetherington will show about 300 randomly selected
Missouri residents slides of various scenes from sites in Mark
Twain National Forest, Doe Run State Forest, Ozark National Scenic
Riverways and portions of University of Missouri-owned forest near
Participants will rate each scene on a scale of one to 10 - one
representing the most ugly forest; 10 being most attractive.
Hetherington said he was amazed at the consistency of subjects'
"Regardless of their age, gender, race or socio-economic
background, they all pretty much agree on what they like and
dislike," he said.
In general, those surveyed tend to like lots of green grass
surrounding large, evenly spaced trees, with enough distance
between them to have good sight lines.
"Water is always a plus, too," Hetherington said. "It can be
the worst scene you've ever seen, but if there's water it'll still
rate high in perception." Usually subjects react negatively to
signs of human invasion, including trash, stumps and buildings.
"Our reaction to buildings is ironic, though, because we build
them, yet we don't like to see them," Hetherington said. …