Understanding the Perceived Effectiveness of Applying the Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP) Framework for Recreation Planning: A Multi-Case Study in U.S. National Parks

By Fefer, Jessica; De Urioste-Stone, Sandra M. et al. | The Qualitative Report, July 2018 | Go to article overview

Understanding the Perceived Effectiveness of Applying the Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP) Framework for Recreation Planning: A Multi-Case Study in U.S. National Parks


Fefer, Jessica, De Urioste-Stone, Sandra M., Daigle, John, Silka, Linda, The Qualitative Report


Introduction

The purpose of this study was to understand how visitor management frameworks are put into use in public lands in the United States. Over the past 35 years visitor use management has become a high priority for public land managers due to the increasing complexity of recreation and tourism activities in protected areas (Manning & Anderson, 2012; McCool, Clark, & Stankey, 2007). Various frameworks have been developed to inform recreation management; each addressing the decision-making process in a way that fits with the objectives of a given U.S. land management agency (McCool et al., 2007). The present study investigates one framework called Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP) as a means to better understand management approaches in the U.S. National Park Service specifically (Hof & Lime, 2007; National Park Service [NPS], 1997). Because "relatively few, field-tested frameworks exist for this array of issues..." (McCool et al., 2007, p. 30), this study documented the perceptions of recreation management professionals to achieve a rich understanding of perceived effectiveness of VERP. This study addressed the question of whether frameworks such as VERP have been useful to managers for making decisions and highlighted those areas that should be addressed as future recreation management frameworks are developed, or modifications are made to existing frameworks.

The National Park Service (NPS) Purpose, Mission and Mandate

The sustainable management of the worlds protected places is essential for the protection of irreplaceable natural assets that have been set aside for both intrinsic and instrumental values. Parks and protected areas are vital to global health and well-being in countless ways including: (1) serving as open spaces in a time of intense land development, (2) protecting natural and cultural resources, (3) providing recreation opportunities, (4) and providing economic benefits from increased jobs and tourism (Lockwood, Worboys, & Kathari, 2006; Manning & Anderson, 2012).

The National Park Service (NPS) is a U.S. public land management agency that has been tasked with protecting natural and cultural resources while providing access and quality recreation opportunities for this and future generations (NPS, 2000). It is now commonly understood that in places where recreation is allowed, degradation to the resource is inevitable (Hammitt, Cole, & Monz, 2015). This dual mandate is challenging for park managers as they search for ways to encourage outdoor recreation while also protecting the resources from unacceptable amounts of change. In recent years, the mandate has become increasingly complex, with record breaking visitation to national parks across the country in 2016, the third year in a row of record breaking visitation (NPS, 2018). The NPS hosted 292.8 million recreation visits in 2014, and 331 million recreation visits in 2016 (NPS, 2018). With added pressure for the nation's parks being "loved to death," it is essential that park managers have the proper tools and knowledge to maintain a quality visitor experience while protecting natural and cultural resources from unacceptable degradation.

Carrying Capacity and "Management-by-Objectives" Frameworks

The growing complexity and dynamic nature of recreation and tourism have accelerated the need to answer one not so simple question; "How much change can occur before it becomes too much?" or, "What is the level of unacceptable change?" (Stankey, Cole, Lucas, Petersen, & Frissell, 1985). To help answer this question, federal legislation, such as the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 (McCool et al., 2007; Manning & Anderson, 2012), mandated that each national park establish a systematic approach to identify a recreation carrying capacity based on biophysical, social and managerial components. Biophysical capacity refers to the ultimate limits to growth as constrained by environmental factors (Hayden, 1975). …

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