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RPTM 320 Literature Review:

An In-Depth Analysis of Recreation Ecology

Michaela Wandrisco

The Pennsylvania State University


Recreation ecology is defined as the scientific study of how the environment is impacted

by visitors participating in recreational activities (Monz, Pickering, Hadwen, 2013). The results

from studies of recreation ecology can form the basis of management strategies for natural

protected areas across the world. Camping and other recreational activities can impact a lot of

natural resources including: vegetation, loss of organic litter and exposure, compaction, erosion

of soil, damage and loss of shrubs and trees, pollution of water resources, and disturbance to

wildlife (Cole, 1987). It is very important for managers to study recreation behavior within their

natural area in order to prevent and manage impact. The purpose of this literature review is to

analyze management strategies, campsite design, and visitor dynamics in areas of high impact.

Balancing environmental and social objectives can be difficult at high use/high impact

recreation sites. Management actions as a result of recreational use always need to take into

account natural resource protection. The study, by Daniels and Marion, examines consumers

reactions of environmental, social, and management conditions to these objectives at a popular

Appalachian Trail camping area in Annapolis Rocks, Maryland. Out of many camping areas

along the trail, Annapolis Rocks is considered to be one of the most impacted vegetation, soil,

and tree-wise. There were also a lot of problems with overcrowding and camping related

conflicts. The study enacted new campsite policies that included prohibiting campfires and

moving camping from old campsites to newly constructed campsites (Daniels, Marion, 2006).

The sample consisted of an average of nine campers at Annapolis Rocks on weekdays and 24 on

average weekends during the summer and fall. More than 100 campers have been observed at

Annapolis Rocks on peak use weekends. Data revealed that visitors were more satisfied with the

campsites after the changes had been enacted, which shows that well-planned and well- though

out management strategies can be very successful (Daniels, et al., 2006). Management strategies

for recreation ecology are always situational and will be specific to the location being managed.

This studys results suggest that areas of high use and high impact require significant site

management and visitor regulation.

Backcountry and wilderness recreation rely heavily on camping, which creates areas of

high impact. The quality of consumers recreation could be affected by the design and condition

of the campsites. This study, by Eagleston and Marion, evaluated the conditions and resources at

81 campsites in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Physical, vegetative, and soil

indicators were measured to identify long-term trends over 32 years of continuous campsite use.

The study revealed significant changes in and around the campsites. There was substantial

change in area of vegetation cover, exposed soil, and soil erosion on campsites. Average

campsite size remained fairly constant. A loss of tree cover was also observed as a result of

visitors chopping down trees for firewood (Eagleston, et al. 2017). Long term camping impacts

are occurring and could be maintained through sustainable management. It is crucial to consider

recreation ecology in all resource planning and management strategies. Without a natural area to

recreate within, many outdoor recreational activities are not possible. Therefore, it is essential to

preserve and maintain outdoor areas. With the increase in participation of outdoor recreational

activities, comes and increase in overall impact. The heavier the impact, the more management

an area will require.

Participation in recreation is increasing worldwide. More and more people are getting

outside to visit natural protected areas than ever before. This increase in visitation is directly

linked to higher levels of environmental impact. The use-impact relationship is commonly

described as curvilinear, meaning that impact increases at a curved, linear rate as use increases

(Monz, et al., 2013). While this model can be useful, it does not always accurately represent all

data. When the environment is impacted, the vegetation especially is affected. Heavy use leads to

the trampling of vegetation and ultimately to the destruction of vegetation within an area. This

article examines the relationship between use and impact on vegetation. Studies have found that

even with a very small increase in use, the area shows significant impact. This stays true for

areas that were previously undisturbed, as well as areas of low use. In contrast, small increases in

use of high-use areas showed little, or no, change in impact. This relationship proves the

curvilinear model (Monz, et al., 2013). In response to these results, managers have used a

strategy called confinement to confine visitors to designated areas. This management action is an

attempt to control and minimize impact. These approaches assume that once a site is extensively

disturbed, impacts will not change considerably despite substantial increases in use. This article

reinforces zoning strategies of management. Once a campsite, trail, or other area has high

evidence of impact, increases in impact will hardly make a change. Therefore, these areas need

to be designated as usable areas in order to minimize overall impact in natural areas.

Management practices are always being adapted and changed to accommodate changes in

visitor use and demographics. Recreational activities are allowed in parks as long as they do not

impair or degrade a natural areas resources, values, or purposes ((Marion, et al. 2002).

Management strategies recognize that resource impact is an inevitable consequence of

recreational activity to a certain extent. Policies direct managers to `ensure that any adverse

impacts are the minimum necessary, unavoidable, cannot be further mitigated, and do not

constitute impairment or derogation of park resources and values' (NPS, 2001). According to the

article, Management practices that concentrate visitor activities: camping impact management

at Isle Royale National Park, USA, successful management is considered to be a balance

between recreational activities and resource protection. The study conducted in this article

focuses on applying recreation ecology knowledge in an evaluation of visitor impact

management actions that seek to reduce the area of resource disturbance by spatially

concentrating camping activities (Marion, et al. 2002). The study was executed in Isle Royale

National Park, which consists of multiple, remote islands located in Lake Superior, near

Michigans border with Canada. The main objective of the study was to analyze all 36 of the

parks designated camping areas. At each area, impact indicators were evaluated. Results showed

very little evidence of camping outside the designated areas. Size of campstie strongly influenced

the conditions of resources in and around the campsites. Larger campsites had more significant

impact. Also, sites with picnic tables showed less evidence of impact (Marion, et al. 2002). The

results of this study show how management strategies can affect visitor behavior to minimize

impact. For example, placing picnic tables in campsites gives visitors a designated area in which

to gather, and discourages them from congregating in undesignated areas.

Recreation ecology is used to evaluate the effectiveness of resource management

programs and innovations. This study, conducted by Cole, Foti, and Brown, focuses on research

from three different studies executed over a 20-year period to assess trends in the number and

condition of campsites in the backcountry of Grand Canyon National Park. The Grand Canyon is

one of the worlds most popular and sought after natural attractions because of its magnificence

and beauty. Some visitors observe the canyon from up above from around the rim, while many

choose to journey down into the heart of the canyon using established trails and campsites (Cole,

et al. 2008). According to the National Park Service annual visitation report, Grand Canyon

National Park receives over six million visitors each year (NPS Stats, 2017). This high number

of visitors causes significant impact to the natural integrity of the park. This study started in 1984

where the conditions of 12 high use campsites and 12 low use campsites were evaluated. The

sites were again monitored between 1985 and 1992, and again between 2003 and 2004. Over the

20-year period, the campsites did not significantly change. The high use campsites displayed

more evidence of impact than those of low use. In contrast, the number of campsites more than

doubled throughout the studies. The new campsites were found in area where only camping in

designated campsites was allowed (Cole, et al. 2008). Campsite-management strategies adopted

at Grand Canyon National Park have only been partially successful. In regards to these results,

managers must either accept the impact of larger sites or lower the group size limits. Some site

expansion might be avoided by incorporating campsite design and maintenance techniques that

limit this behavior.

Understanding recreation ecology is important for all managers of outdoor areas. Without

careful observation, research, and management, natural resources can easily be depleted and

destroyed. Since participation in outdoor recreation is steadily on the rise, potential impact in

natural areas is also on the rise. This literature review analyzed management strategies, campsite

design, and visitor dynamics within areas of high impact. Through well practiced management

policies, the outdoor world can remain a place to admire, recreate within, and enjoy.


Cole, D. N. (1987). Research on soil and vegetation in wilderness: a state-of-knowledge review.

In Proceedings National Wilderness Research Conference: Issues, State-of-Knowledge,

Future Directions, July 2326, 1985, Fort Collins, CO (Lucas, R. C., comp.), pp.

135177. General Technical Report INT-220. Ogden, UT: USDA Forest Service,

Intermountain Research Station

Cole, D. N., Foti, P., & Brown, M. (2008). Twenty Years of Change on Campsites in the

Backcountry of Grand Canyon National Park. Environmental Management, 41(6), 959-

970. doi:10.1007/s00267-008-9087-5

Daniels, M. L., & Marion, J. L. (2006). Visitor Evaluations of Management Actions at a Highly

Impacted Appalachian Trail Camping Area. Environmental Management, 38(6), 1006-

1019. doi:10.1007/s00267-004-0368-3

Eagleston, H., & Marion, J. L. (2017). Sustainable campsite management in protected areas: A

study of long-term ecological changes on campsites in the boundary waters canoe area

wilderness, Minnesota, USA. Journal for Nature Conservation, 37, 73-82.


Monz, C. A., Pickering, C. M., & Hadwen, W. L. (2013). Recent advances in recreation ecology

and the implications of different relationships between recreation use and ecological

impacts. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 11(8), 441-446. doi:10.1890/120358

Marion, J. L., & Farrell, T. A. (2002). Management practices that concentrate visitor activities:

camping impact management at Isle Royale National Park, USA. Journal of

Environmental Management, 66(2), 201-212. doi:10.1006/jema.2002.0584


National Park Service. (2001). National Park Service Management Polices. Washington, DC:

USDI, National Park Service ( npsmptoc.html).

NPS Stats: Visitor Use Statistics: Grand Canyon NP. (n.d.). Retrieved September, 2017, from