Toward an Approach for Measuring Indicators of Facility Carrying Capacity in Outdoor Recreation Areas

By Needham, Mark D.; Ceurvorst, Robyn L. et al. | Journal of Leisure Research, May 30, 2013 | Go to article overview

Toward an Approach for Measuring Indicators of Facility Carrying Capacity in Outdoor Recreation Areas


Needham, Mark D., Ceurvorst, Robyn L., Tynon, Joanne F., Journal of Leisure Research


Introduction

People often require some amenities, services, and facilities (e.g., trash cans, parking, signs) when visiting a recreation site, and the number and condition of these are important for meeting user needs (Bastmeijer, Lamers, & Harcha, 2008; Borrie, McCool, & Stankey, 1998; Coccossis & Mexa, 2004; Manning, 2011). Visitation, however, can impact and place demands on these amenities and facilities, thereby depreciating conditions and affecting the quality of user experiences (Donnelly, Vaske, DeRuiter, & King, 1996; Mexa & Collovini, 2004). The concept of carrying capacity is one approach that has been used extensively for addressing these types of impacts associated with recreation (see Manning, 2007; Shelby & Heberlein, 1986 for reviews).

There are three main types of recreation carrying capacities (Shelby & Heberlein, 1986). First, social carrying capacity is the level of use beyond which social impacts such as crowding and conflict exceed acceptable levels specified by evaluative standards. Second, environmental or resource capacity is when biophysical factors cannot withstand a level of use, thereby creating unacceptable changes to resource indicators such as soils and vegetation. Third, facility capacity involves the amount and/or condition of infrastructure such as bathrooms, signs, and parking that accommodate the needs of some users. Social and environmental capacities have received substantial empirical attention in the recreation literature, whereas there have been comparatively fewer studies addressing facility capacity issues (see Manning, 2007, 2011 for reviews).

Social capacity studies have primarily measured concepts such as the number of user encounters with other people, and user evaluations such as crowding and norms (see Vaske & Donnelly, 2002; Vaske & Shelby, 2008 for reviews). One line of research defines norms as standards that individuals use for evaluating activities, environments, or management strategies as good or bad, better or worse (e.g., Donnelly, Vaske, Whittaker, & Shelby, 2000; Vaske, Shelby, Graefe, & Heberlein, 1986). Norms clarify what people believe conditions or behavior should or should not be in an area. When users perceive a setting to be over its social capacity, they likely compared conditions that they experienced (e.g., encounters) with their normative evaluations of what they feel conditions (e.g., use levels) should or should not be for the setting (Vaske & Donnelly, 2002). Users who encounter more people than their norm are more likely to feel that a site's social capacity is being exceeded and report a dissatisfactory experience such as feeling crowded (Manning, 2011; Needham, Rollins, & Wood, 2004; Vaske & Donnelly, 2002).

It is possible that a similar approach could be adopted to examine facility capacity issues where respondents could report their observations of facilities (e.g., encounters with facilities), norms for facilities, and evaluations of these facilities (e.g., satisfaction with facilities). This article uses data from several coastal sites in Hawaii to examine this approach by measuring congruence among the actual numbers of facilities (e.g., bathrooms, trash cans, signs) and user observations, norms, and satisfaction with these facilities to inform management and monitoring.

Conceptual Foundation

Early applications of the carrying capacity concept in recreation often sought to establish a number or capacity across dimensions of a setting (i.e., social, environmental, facility; Shelby & Heberlein, 1986). Researchers argued, however, that this approach may not be useful for addressing complex use related issues while maintaining resources, experiences, and facilities (Graefe, Vaske, & Kuss, 1984; Manning, 2011). Recognizing that most recreation causes some impacts and obtaining precise numbers to represent capacities across these dimensions may be unrealistic, the question of "how much use is too much" shifted to "how much use or impact is acceptable or should be allowed" (Manning, 2011). …

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