Breath of Clarity

Frontcountry versus Backcountry restrictions (Comment)

Original Post by John Maroldo:

According to the SCA (2014) frontcountry refers to natural land which is closer to roads and human civilization. This section of land often is accompanied with some recognitions of civilization, such as restrooms, water fountains, and/or trash cans. These locations are easier for management to impose direct restrictions on because of the proximity the land has to civilization (Manning et. al. 2017, 20). This area is frequently visited and therefore frequently maintained. It is common to find ranger stations here to answer questions and enforce guidelines. With use of tools such as trash cans, negative human impacts (such as littering) are less frequent and easier to avoid.

Wilderness (or backcountry) refers to natural land offset from civilization. Representations of human activity will be less likely found here (SCA 2014). This can make this area harder to manage recreationally. Rules must be stricter in this area as it is typically maintained less often. This leads to a bit of a contradiction, however, because there is less enforcement of these rules. The size of backcountry land makes it unable to be consistently monitored. This calls for the use of indirect management techniques (Manning et. al. 2017, 20). While direct management tells visitors what they can and cannot do, indirect management techniques try to encourage visitors to make the correct decisions without the associated enforcement and costs. In a camping example described by Manning (et. al. 2017, 21), a direct management technique would be telling visitors they cannot make a fire while an indirect management technique could post educational flyers on the trails stating why fires can be dangerous to the wildlife. With the understanding of why the fires are a negative impact, the hope is that visitors choose to not make fires on their own.

Leung and Marion (2000, 38) recommend eight main management strategies for recreational use of the wilderness. Among these recommendations, we find modifying visitor behavior through education in a similar technique as described by Manning. While this is efficient for wilderness, this particular method would be less efficient for frontcountry. The gamble with indirect management in backcountry is that the visitors could still make the wrong decision. That gamble is not a large risk though because it often will not reflect poorly from guest to guest. Frontcountry, on the other hand, sees many more people who are often in view of each other. If one group were to make a fire, other groups will see that and numerous might think that they should do it too. This causes a chain recreation of negative behavior in frontcountry while one bad apple remains just one bad apple in the wilderness. There are wilderness management techniques described by Leung and Marion (2000, 37) which can be applied to frontcountry as well, however, such as modifying the times and locations of the area. If negative impacts become too frequent, this method should be applied to either area experiencing issues.

Leung, Yu-Fai, Marion, Jeffrey L. 2000. “Recreation impacts and management in wilderness : A state-of-knowledge review.” Presented at the Wilderness science in a time of change conference-Volume 5: Wilderness ecosystems, threats, and management; Missoula, MT. Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-5. Ogden, UT, 1999 May 23–27; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 23-48

Manning, Robert E., Laura E. Anderson, and Peter R. Pettengill. 2017. Managing Outdoor Recreation: Case Studies in the National Parks, 2nd Ed. Boston: CAB International.

SCA. 2014. “What Do You Mean by ‘Backcountry’ and ‘Frontcountry’?” The Student Conservation Association. November 5.

Comment by Fenton Kay:

Very good post, John. What are your thoughts regarding surveillance methods in the backcountry such as drones? Drones are seeing a lot of new uses and seem to be particularly good for observing ground activity in more or less remote locations.

Comment by John Maroldo:

I think drones could be a great tool in locations where it is clear hikers are not following guidelines. Perhaps lots of rules are clearly being broken so regulations need to be enforced. However, without cause for suspicion, I would find a drone monitoring me very off-putting if I were on a hike, connecting with nature. If a drone kept flying by while I was hiking alone in backcountry, I would feel that uneasy sensation of someone watching me. I can see the benefit drones could offer management of the area, to ensure proper human activity. However, as a visitor I would likely find a different area to hike in next time where I was not being checked on often.

Comment by Jenny Kelley:

You really covered indirect management so well! Your explanations reminded me alot of my undergraduate degree in management. We studied in depth the different styles of management, especially the theory y and theory x styles. Theory X is the old school, direct management when managers give orders, make schedules, and control from a vertical perspective. Theory Y, which came more into practice toward the turn of the century is more horizontal, it encompasses all tiers and managers are seen more as servant leaders. I think giving people the opportunity to make the right choice can be an empowering action. Although, I have yet to find statistics to defend that claim and human nature being as it is, people do not always carry out indirect management as you mentioned too. And as you mentioned, deterrents and retribution (fines, removal from the park, etc) do need to be enforced. Backcountry monitoring though would be difficult.

Comment by John Maroldo:

Theory X and Y is a great way to study these varying management techniques. Giving the people the right to choose is empowering! However, the gamble is in hoping they make the right decision. By giving them the option, however, we are potentially setting the stage for the right choice to be embedded in our ways, passed down generation to generation.

My Comment:

Hi John (and Jenny),

I found a study involving qualitative interviews to understand visitor experience on the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Results suggest experiences are centered on the aesthetics and naturalness of Cadillac Mountain (Bullock and Lawson 2007). Site management structures that were perceived to blend in with the surroundings, be constructed of natural materials and protect vegetation generally appear to be of little consequence to the visitors (Bullock and Lawson 2007). In contrast, fencing and regulatory messages on signs were more likely to negatively affect visitor experiences, in part because they were perceived as demonstrating a lack of trust in visitors (Bullock and Lawson 2007). I figure lack of trust is a major deterrent in the success of indirect management. Little changes such as this one, the details of infrastructure, can drastically improve the issue.


Bullock, Steven and Steven Lawson. 2007. “Examining the Potential Effects of Management Actions on Visitor Experiences on the Summit of Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park”. Society for Human Ecology. 14(2): 140-156.