Breath of Clarity

Impacts of Recreational Use- Demographics

Several studies suggest ways in which information on recreation use and the characteristics of users can and should be integrated into national resource management (Manning 2010). These range from monitoring the popularity of recreation activities so as to more effectively plan budgetary, personnel, and other resource needs to determining the residence of visitors in order to more effectively conduct public information and education programs (Manning 2010). For example, research conducted over 25 years at Yosemite National Park found a substantial shift in use toward single-day hikers (Manning 2010). Day users and other short term visitors have distinct facility and service needs, and these should be reflected in management programs (Manning 2010). Additionally, the increase, from 50% in 1916 to currently over 80%, in the nation’s urban population brings a need for managers to put more attention towards the urban population’s recreational resource use (National Park Service 2017). The communities where the far majority of Americans live are becoming more economically diverse and multicultural (National Park Service 2017). Strengthening the National Park Service’s external relationships, diversifying its workforce, and aligning with community-driven agendas are among the many strategies required to help create relationships with new audiences (National Park Service 2017). For example, the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and Local Assistance Grants do so by creating close-to-home parks, playgrounds, ball fields, in over 42,000 communities across the country (National Park Service 2017). Managers are also placing emphasis on demographic characteristics such as age, education, income, and occupation (Manning 2010). However, demographic variables are generally not powerful predictors of overall participations, but are often more strongly related to specific activities.

Total participation in leisure activities, as well as selected types of leisure activities, was generally found to be related to particularly social class differences and occupational prestige (Manning 2010).


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

National Park Service. 2017. “By The Numbers.” Accessed June 16, 2019.

Comment by Fenton Kay:

Mary, most of the issues with recreational use are either outside the parks’ area of control or can be addressed within the existing park infrastructure and budget. However, dealing with life-cycle issues may be more difficult to approach. What sorts of issues do you see that fall within that category, and how would you approach dealing with them if you were a park manager?

My Reply:

Great point that it is particularly difficult to deal with life-cycle issues. I would start to approach life cycle issues by focusing on thoroughly understanding them and the variance of their impact across national parks. One that falls within that category is mercury in national parks. One challenge to approaching the issue is it stems from such a plethora of sources such as volcanoes, concentrated ore deposits, emissions from coal-burning power plants, and mining operations for silver (Pritz et al. 2014). Still, mercury contamination can be a substantial water quality issue for national parks in even the most remote locations far removed from point source emissions, because many of the landscape characteristics of aquatic ecosystems in protected lands- abundant wetlands, full forest canopies, and naturally fluctuating water levels- are associated with the most toxic form of mercury called methyl mercury (Pritz et al. 2014). Most importantly, it is transferred into food chains through processes fueled by microscopic bacteria (Pritz et al. 2014). The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has conducted some research to better understand mercury’s complexity and its behavior. For example, the USGS Mercury Research Lab conducted a project in the Everglades to research mercury’s cycling pathways, bioaccumulation, and anticipate how ecosystem restoration programs would impact mercury in the future (Pritz et al. 2014). Additionally, the project derived information about the relationship between methyl mercury production and biogeochemical variables, such as nutrients, sulfate, sulfide, and dissolved organic matter (Pritz et al. 2014). Still, the problem is that few parks nationwide have received substantial study of mercury cycling and ecosystem risk (Pritz et al. 2014). In order to assess potential risk of mercury contamination at other national parks, the USGS is collaborating with the National Park Service (NPS) to refine a sensitivity model for predicting methyl mercury concentrations in surface waters of 270 national parks (Pritz et al. 2014). The NPS is also working with state officials on potential fish consumption advisories (Pritz et al. 2014). Continued coordination with other entities will build awareness of the issue of mercury contamination. From there, resource managers can designate some areas as hotspots and allocate additional resources to conserving the biota there.


Pritz, Colleen, Collin Eagles-Smith and David Krabbenhoft. 2014. “Mercury in the National Parks”. The George Wright Forum. 31(2): 168-180.