Recreation and Visitor Use

Wilderness offers escape from daily routines, stress from work and urban living, and the distractions of technology. People learn about nature, examine their personal perspective on life and nature, photograph unique landscapes, and spend time with family and friends in spectacular environments. The Institute provides research on these social and personal benefits of wilderness recreation.

Our research also provides wilderness stewards with the scientific foundation they need to protect wilderness from various threats. Recreational use is a persistent stewardship challenge, as it often threatens the naturalness of wilderness, its undeveloped nature, and opportunities for solitude and primitive use, while at the same time fostering respect for wilderness. In other areas, urban growth and more land use at wilderness boundaries are also causing increasing pressures. Other threats, such as fire management and climate change, may cause severe impacts or have a pronounced effect on the nature of the wilderness experience. Although a substantial body of wilderness recreation research has developed over the past 50 years, there is still much that remains unknown.

Some important issues related to ecological impacts from recreation on wilderness that will be studied include:

  • the impacts of pack stock and how they should be managed;
  • recreational impacts on wildlife;
  • recreational impacts on water quality; and,
  • cost-effective means of restoring disturbed sites in varied ecosystems.

Other critical issues related to providing and protecting wilderness recreation experiences to be studied include:

  • what constitutes a "quality visitor experience" for most wilderness users;
  • the cumulative effects of recreation use and its management on experience;
  • commercial use and its management;
  • effects of electronic and other technology;
  • changing relationships with wilderness with shifting demographics; and,
  • how to engage the public in defining priority problems and finding solutions.