Visitor Preferences and Values for Water-Based Recreation: A Case Study of the Ocala National Forest

By Shrestha, Ram K.; Alavalapati, Janaki R. R. et al. | Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Visitor Preferences and Values for Water-Based Recreation: A Case Study of the Ocala National Forest


Shrestha, Ram K., Alavalapati, Janaki R. R., Stein, Taylor V., Carter, Douglas R., Denny, Christine B., Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics


We used the open-ended contingent valuation method to elicit willingness to pay (WTP) for day visitors and extended visitors on the Ocala National Forest (ONF), Florida. A Tobit model specification was applied to account for the issues involved with censored WTP bids. The results reveal that visitors would pay more for improved recreational facilities at the ONF. In particular, our estimates show that visitors would pay $1 million for basic facilities, $1.9 million for moderate improvements, and $2.5 million for more improvements.

Key Words: contingent valuation, Tobit analysis, water-based recreation

JEL Classifications: Q23, Q26

A recent inventory of the American public shows that the majority of citizens participate in some form of outdoor recreation (Cordell et al.). Furthermore, more than half of the people living in the southern United States visit nature centers, drive for pleasure, and go sightseeing (Cordell). In the United States, federal land-management agencies manage more than 650 million acres of public land, most of which is open to the public for recreation. Because of the large supply of open natural areas, many people believe the term "great outdoors" refers to national forests, national parks, or other public lands (Betz, English, and Cordell).

By managing almost one third of federal lands in the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USDA FS) recorded over 850 million visits in 1996.1 The FS continuously struggles to balance this overwhelming recreation demand with other demand for timber, minerals, and grazing facilities. However, researchers have shown that nature-based recreation participation will continue to grow, creating even greater demand for recreation and other leisure activities in national forests. In fact, on the basis of participation rates in 1995, Bowker, English, and Cordell estimated that the number of people camping in developed sites and picnicking and sightseeing in the southern United States is expected to almost double by 2050.

Not only is the number of visitors increasing, but USDA FS visitors also have diverse backgrounds and interests, resulting in a greater variety of desired recreation opportunities (Brown, Driver, and McConnell; Stein and Lee; Wagar). Although research has shown that the desire to experience nature is a primary reason for recreating in a natural area, visitors rarely look for the most primitive setting (Stein and Lee; Virden and Knopf). Many people require easy access and some level of development for them to visit and to recreate in a national forest or other public natural areas. Much research has examined visitations to undeveloped recreation sites on public lands, but little research has been done on visitors' preferences and values for developed water-based recreation areas. Also, research has not fully examined visitors' willingness to pay for more developed recreation opportunities, which are rarely considered to exist on USDA FS lands. As a result, the FS is unable to make informed management and budget decisions regarding appropriate facilities in many of its heavily used recreation sites.

In this article, we analyze visitors' preferences for incremental facilities at water-based recreation sites in the Ocala National Forest (ONF), Florida. Specifically, we estimate visitors' willingness to pay (WTP) for waterbased recreational activity coinciding with various levels of on-site facilities. We achieve this goal using the contingent valuation method (CVM), an established method for nonmarket valuation of natural resources and environmental goods (Boyle, Reiling, and Phillips; Loomis and Walsh; Mitchell and Carson).2 An open-ended CVM question format was used to elicit visitors' WTP for water-based recreation under current facilities and for improved facilities. The open-ended format of CVM works relatively well in cases where respondents are familiar with the resource and with the concept of purchasing similar types of goods and services (Halstead, Lindsay, and Brown; Mitchell and Carson). …

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