Breath of Clarity

Impacts of Recreational Use- Challenges of Measurement

Measuring use in outdoor recreation settings is difficult. Firstly, the dispersed nature of outdoor recreation activity presents a challenge (Manning 2010). Secondarily, there are often substantiative differences in procedures among areas and agencies, along with inconsistencies in how the procedures are applied (Manning 2010). Thirdly, data from surveys measure participation in recreation activities, not necessarily demand (Manning 2010). They do not take into account existing recreation opportunities and their impact on on participation rates (Manning 2010). Treatment of participation surveys as measures of demand may lead to a feedback model whereby supply or opportunity creates high participation rates, which in turn encourage more supply and so on (Manning 2010). Additionally, a problem with participation surveys is their exclusive focus on activities rather than the underlying meanings these activities have for the participants (Manning 2010). A plethora of research reveals that people participate in outdoor recreation activities to satisfy certain motivations; that is, recreation activities can be more of a means to an end than any sort of end in itself (Manning 2010). Overemphasis on activities ignores the potential for one activity to substitute for another in fulfilling the same motivation (Manning 2010). Lastly, participation surveys are limited by a range of methodological problems (Manning 2010). For example, the same activities are not always included in participation surveys (Manning 2010). Another example is the way in which activities are defined can substantially affect the reported participation rates. Or, even, the data collection technique can contain a massive amount of variance (Manning 2010). The lack of consistency limits comparisons overtime and identification of trends (Manning 2010).

My area is West Asheville Park- Gassaway Field. It is going to be challenging to generate accuracy in my population count. Many recreation areas, particularly backcountry and wilderness ares, rely on use permits and self-registration as a primary source of information (Manning 2010). However, there is no formal tracking mechanism set in place at my location. I could put a camera at the scene. However, even if I did, its combination with my direct observation, interviews, telephone, mail and internet surveys would contain a massive amount of variance that would result in lacking consistency regarding trend identification methods. Also, the data I get from surveys is just going to show the activity people participate in rather than actual demands. For example, parents may bring their children to the park for the purpose of using the swing set even though, if there was a quality walking path, the parents would instead use the park for the latter reason. Therefore, my results will show how people respond to the given conditions which does not fully represent their complete preferences. Further, I am going to have to focus on inquiring about visitor motivation in my interview. That way, I will be able to understand the underlying meanings of the activities instead of simply keeping track of which features of the park are frequently utilized.


Manning, Robert. Studies in Outdoor Recreation, 3rd ed.: Search and Research for Satisfaction 3rd Edition. Oregon State University Press, 2010.

Comment by Fenton Kay:

Mary, is there a way you might be able to consolidate your data so as to avoid some of the inconsistencies? Can you modify your survey form so that it gets at demand? Sticky issues, no doubt about it.

My Comment:

One way to avoid the inconsistencies is to ensure I am measuring the same subjects despite using various mediums, such as direct observation and interviews, to do so. For instance, I need to not only interview some people while I am only directly observing others. I was basing the activity participation versus demands on Manning’s account. However, I can definitely craft the questions so that they intentionally ask about demand. I wonder why Manning did not touch on that approach. However, it would be difficult to generate demand as opposed to activity participation through only direct observation. It points to a strength of the interviewing method type.