Using Visitor Perceptions in River ...

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Using Visitor Perceptions in River Use Planning, 1972 · 1984
Kenneth C. Chilman, David Foster, and Alan Everson 2
Abstract.--Recreational carrying capacity determination for
large wildland areas is a complex and controversial topic.
Visitor perception data has been gathered periodically
since 1972 at Ozark National Scenic Riverways. It provides
strong support for the carrying capacity rationale used for
river use planning there. Implications for other carrying
capacity situations are discussed.
An important issue in river use planning is
recreational carrying capacity. How many canoes
(or other watercraft) can float a river without
unacceptable impairment of river ecosystems or
quality of recreation visits? For large and
diverse wildland areas, such as Ozark National
Scenic Riverways (ONSR) in south central Missouri,
carrying capacity has been especially complex and
controversial. A ~iver research program designed
to gather various kinds of data for carrying
capacity planning, including visitor perceptions
measurements, has been done four times since 1972.
Data from these. research efforts have been useful
in public hearings, court cases, and current river
use planning efforts.
at ONSR, how visitor perception data have been
obtained, and how these data have been useful in
carrying capacity planning.
The complexity of recreational carrying
capacity planning is indicated by the fact that
river use planning for ONSR began in 1972, and is
still continuing. The first river use plan is now
in draft form and should be submitted for public
review this year.
Ozark National Scenic Riverways was established
in 1964 as the nation's first Scenic Riverway.
The National Park Service (NPS) has responsibility
for administering some 134 miles of the Current
and Jacks Fork Rivers and the land corridor
adjoining the rivers (fig. 1). The area was set
aside as a Scenic Riverway because of _its cold,
clear, and moderately swift rivers, fed by large
springs. It contains classic examples of Ozark
mountain scenery, and examples of native Ozark
cultural activities for interpretive programs,
which the NPS maintains.
Advances have been made recently in recreational carrying capacity theories. Carrying
capacity is now considered as a set of conditions
to be managed for, rather than simply a calculation of numbers of visitors allowed (Stankey et
al 1984). The set of conditions to be maintained
for a recreation area or a portion of an area can
be arrived at by deciding what is appropriate
considering the spectrum of comparable opportunity
settings available, as indicated by recreation
inventory techniques (Chilman and Hampton, 1982).
These characteristics, plus proximity to
St. Louis, Missouri (about 150 miles), make the
area a favorite for canoeists. From ~n estimated
40,000 floater days in 1968 (some floaters camp
overnight along the rivers on more than one-day
trips), use increased rapidly to 142,850 floater
days in 1972. Concerns of park staff led to
initiation of a five-year river research program
in 1972, accompanied by a moratorium on increasing
the number of canoes rented by NPS concessioners.
In particular, recreation visitors' perceptions can provide insights about (1) what range of
opportunities exist, (2) changes occurring in
opportunity settings, and (3) appropriate use
densities for particular situations. This paper
discusses the complex river use planning situation
1Paper presented at North American Riparian
Ecosystems Conference, University of Arizona,
Tucson, April 16-18, 1985.
2Kenneth C. Chilman, Associate Professor,
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Il.,
David Foster, Biologist, Ozark National Scenic
Riverways, Van Buren, Mo.; and Alan Everson,
Associate Professor, University of Missouri,
Columbia, Mo.
In 1976, a local court judge ruled that,
because county roads crossed the Riverways, anyone
desiring to rent canoes could. use those
A limited number of visitor perception
studies on large wildland areas had been reported
by 1971 (Lucas, 1964; Hendee et al., 1968).
Thus, the objectives of our 1972-perceptions
study were (1) to develop an appropriate methodology for gathering visitor data for management
planning purposes on rivers used for canoe
floating, and (2) to determine whether canoeists
perceive crowding on the float river studied. A
major concern in developing appropriate methodology was the problem of obtaining a sample of
canoe floaters that would represent the diverse
conditions of 134 miles of float rivers, with
essentially no budget. A second concern at that
time was to minimize interference with the
visitor's trip experience.
Previous wildland visitor studies in
Missouri had utilized a short on-site interview
with a follow-up mail questionnaire (Gisi, 1971;
Duffield, 1972). This allowed the interviewer to
explain the purpose of the study and ask a few
questions on-site, and then to obtain more
detailed information from a mail questionnaire.
Return rates on the Missouri questionnaires had
ranged from 56% to 85%. There had been no
objections by interviewers about being questioned.
· - - · o..,.. c•.
Figure 1.--Map of Ozark National Scenic Riverways
roads as public accesses. This created an influx
of non-permitted canoe rentals, raising floater
days to 243,000 in 1977. A series of legal
actions finally culminated in a federal court
ruling in 1982 that the NPS had the right to
control rental businesses operating on the
Riverways. Following a series of appeals, the
NPS began work on drafting a river use plan in
To obtain samples of canoeists over the 134
miles of ONSR rivers, a system of stratified
sampling was utilized. The Riverways was divided
into three sections (fig. 2) representing
The research program now included a series
of integrated baseline studies of numbers of
canoeists, their impacts on the river environments (riparian ecosystems, water quality, and
aquatic life), visitors' perceptions, and safety
considerations (Marnell et al 1978). The perception studies were repeated in 1977, 1979, and
1984, along with monitoring of canoeist numbers
and water quality. It is these repeated measurements that have proven particularly useful for
river use and carrying capacity planning.
A perception includes information obtained by
any number of a person's different senses from a
part of the environment that is of special interest.
For the studies discussed here, we asked canoeists
about aspects of float trips they had recently
experienced. Although perception data have been
gathered to learn about various aspects of float
experiences as indicated above, this report will
focus on perceptions of crowding which have been
the most useful for carrying capacity purposes at
ONSR. A summary of methods of data collection
used in the four studies will be followed by an
overview of results obtained.
Middle Section
Figure 2.--Stratified sampling design for visitor
perception data collection.
differences in water conditions and river use
(Habermehl, 1973). Within these sections, interviews were conducted at major vehicle access
points where floaters ended their float trips and
took their canoes out of the water.
Interviews were conducted on 12 randomly
selected weekend days (Saturdays, Sundays) and 18
randomly selected weekdays between June 1 and
August 7, 1972. The sampling hours were from
11:00 a.m. to 7:00p.m., during which time almost
all ONSR canoeists terminate float trips. During
the sampling period, 307 interviews were conducted.
With two follow-up letters, a total of 285 of the
307 mailed questionnaires were returned for a
response rate of 92.8 percent.
The three questions that were used to
indicate perceptions of crowding were (1) was
this (section of the river) more crowded than you
had expected, about what you had expected, or
less crowded than you had expected, (2) was this
more crowded than you desire, about right, or
less crowded than you desire, and (3) has the
number of floaters been a problem to you? If
respondents answered "yes" to the last question,
they were asked to explain how other floaters had
been a problem to them. Other questions in the
interview and questionnaire were used to obtain
information about the canoe floaters and their
trip experience.
The results of the 1972 perceptions study
were different than anticipated by the ONSR
staff. The responses indicated that 23.5 percent
perceived crowding to be more than expected, 27.4
percent perceived crowding to be more than
desired, and 14.7 percent perceived crowding to
be a problem. The ONSR staff had begun to
receive visitor complaints and media coverage
about canoe crowding occurring, but the results
of the study did not appear strong enough to be a
carrying capacity rationale. Consequently,
research efforts moved to explore other dimensions of the situation.
In 1977, a remeasurement of the perceptions
of crowding was done incidental to other research
(Andrews, 1978). The 1977 data indicated that a
substantial change had occurred in visitors'
perceptions of crowding at ONSR (table 1).
Table I.--Visitors (percent) perceiving crowding
occurring during canoe trips at ONSR.
Essentially, the same research design was
followed in the 1977 and 1979 studies (Andrews,
1978; Chilman, 1979). In 1984, however, a
different sampling design was followed in which
interviews were entirely on-site and conducted in
combination with use counts. A new canoe use
configuration had occurred because of changes in
NPS controls over canoe rentals, and the NPS
wanted more specific counts of how canoe concessioners were operating on various river sections.
Crowding more than expected
Crowding more than desired
Crowding as a problem
The total ONSR canoe use had increased from
142,850 floater days in 1972 to 243,000 floater
days in 1977, these totals both carefully measured
with time-lapse photography (Marnell et al.,
1978). Increases in perceptions of crowding now
appeared to relate closely to increases in river
use densities. It should also be noted that the
perceptions of crowding percentages were similar
on the less used Lower and Middle sections of
ONSR to the heavily used Upper section, suggesting
that some floaters were making conscious choices
to avoid high density area~ and then were finding
increased use of low densify sections (Chilman,
Ten river use zones were identified, each
approximately an easy one-day float trip from
major access to major takeout point (fig. 3).
Because the findings above appeared significant, a follow-up replication was conducted in
1979. Total canoe use had increased to approximately 300,000 floater days in 1979, and perceptions
of crowding again showed an increase (table 2).
Although increases in 1979 in the desired and
problem categories occurred as expected in
relation to total use, the drop in expected
crowding responses appeared related to visitors
being told to "expect to see lots of canoes" by
previous visitors.
Figure 3.--Zone designations for monitoring and
reporting river-use statistics at ONSR.
Table 2.--Visitors (percent) perceiving crowding
occurring during canoe trips at ONSR.
Short visitor interviews, including the perception of crowding questions, were conducted at
eight river accesses representing eight of the
zones (two zones were not sampled because their
use was early season or very low). Sampling was
done at each of the eight accesses on one weekend
day and one weekday during each of June, July,
and August. A total of 568 interviews were
conducted; no mail questionnaires were used.
Crowding more than expected
Crowding more than desired
Crowding as a problem
The three remeasurements of perceptions of
crowding appeared to indicate deterioration in
quality of float trip experiences at ONSR. The
problem was to decide what level of perceived
crowding would be defensible in carrying capacity
decision-making. A level of zero perception of
crowding appeared unrealistic, given the diversity
of floaters and float experiences. On the other
hand, could a level of twenty percent or thirty
percent or forty percent be defended as "acceptable?"
Another substantial change had occurred in
total ONSR canoe use when a 1983 federal court
decision reduced canoes available for rent by
approximately twenty percent. The 1984 remeasurement of perceptions of crowding occurred in
connection with measurement of the new use configuration. A reduction in crowding perceptions was
recorded (table 3).
Table 3.--Visitors (percent) perceiving crowding
occurring during canoe trips at ONSR.
Crowding more than expected
Crowding more than desired
Crowding as a problem
1984 visitor study. Management to maintain three
different levels of use on specific zones will
provide a choice of float experience conditions
for visitors.
The first way that visitors' perceptions
of crowding data will be used is by concluding
that the overall level of perception of crowding
(30.5 percent) in 1984 appears in the "acceptable" range. The second way the data will be
useful will be to focus management efforts on
zones and times where perceptions of crowding are
highest (above 30 percent) and to suggest-measures
(such as providing information to visitors about
less crowded zones) to improve visitor satisfaction in those zones. A monitoring system for
future visitor counts and perceptions will be an
important part of that strategy, and is designed
for implementation with the ONSR river use plan.
In addition to the reduction in percentages
of canoeists perceiving crowding, the intensity
of responses of those reporting crowding perceptions
appeared to be less than previous studies.
Interviewees would often respond "yes, I would
like to see a few less canoes, but it is not a big
problem." This suggests that in future monitoring
remeasurements, it may be well to record intensity
of perception as reported in the Buffalo National
River Use Management Plan (USDI, 1983).
How are these remeasurement results to be
used in the ONSR river use planning strategy?
What will be their use in future river management?
An exceptional combination of circumstances
has occurred at ONSR. Not only have a series of
remeasurements of visitors' perceptions taken
place since 1972; it has also been possible to
remeasure after available rental canoes have been
increased, then reduced substantially. Percentages reporting crowding perceptions have related
directly to amounts of total use. The most
recent measurement indicates "acceptable" levels
now, but suggests limits on further increases
pending further monitoring.
A major finding of these studies was that
one season of perception measurements did not
prove very helpful for planning purposes, but a
great deal was learned from the series of measurements over time. The importance of remeasurements of changing conditions as a monitoring
system over time has been emphasized in various
writings on capacity theory (Chilman, 1981;
Washborne, 1982; Stankey et al. 1984).
A difficulty with implementing monitoring
systems has been their costs in a time of dwindling recreation management budgets. The simple,
low-cost measurements used in the ONSR have
effectively solved this problem (at ONSR). They
should prove to be useful instruments in various
complex carrying capacity situations (Chilman,
1985). With these tools, river capacity planning
and management can be a much less uncertain, and
more rewarding, endeavor.
The perception of crowding measurements are
being used in two ways for ONSR river use
planning. The carrying capacity rationale being
used in the ONSR plan follows the capacity
rationale used successfully in the Buffalo
National River Use Management Plan (USDI, 1983).
That rationale stemmed from Wagar's (1966)
"quality in outdoor recreation" concept that
recreation visitors come to an area for different
reasons and thus a range of opportunities should
be provided rather than one average condition.
For the Buffalo River, located in the Ozarks of
northwestern Arkansas and similar in length and
conditions to ONSR, this meant identifying three
levels of use--near-wilderness (up to 8 canoes
per mile), moderate use (between 9 and 20 canoes
per mile), and high use (over 20 canoes per
mile)--to be maintained to provide a choice of
recreation experiences.
Andrews, Michael A. 1978. Perceptions of
crowding by canoe floaters in relation to
the floating baseline concept. Research
report submitted to National Park Service,
Van Buren, Mo. 41 p.
A similar range of use conditions was found
to exist on various ONSR river zones during the
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