Breath of Clarity

Public Involvement- Impacts of Recreational Use

The Parks and Recreation Master Planning video mentioned the need to adapt to a community’s changing vision, needs and priorities. So, involving the public in the planning process must be ongoing to be constructive. It is not enough to include the public in the initial stages and then cut them out of the refinement stages. Additionally, by engaging a diverse array of stakeholders, the local government can make it so that decisions accurately represent the public’s entire perspective. Another way to involve the public in the planning process is to keep the local area’s demographics in mind when outlining the public’s needs (Parks and Recreation Master Planning). It is important to consider people who have a low income, are racial minorities, and have special needs (Parks and Recreation Master Planning). The video also highlighted the need to document public involvement in the planning process so that local governments are held accountable (Parks and Recreation Master Planning). There should be a public advisory committee that is appointed to represent community interests and make recommendations to elected officials (Parks and Recreation Master Planning). The video also recommended for local government to develop a public engagement plan to identify who to involve, how to conduct outreach, and what public involvement opportunities should be included throughout the planning process (Parks and Recreation Master Planning). It suggested social media as a tool (Parks and Recreation Master Planning). Other strategies are conduction of workshops, focus groups, surveys and interviews. To uphold the Freedom of Information Act, all of the public involvement opportunities need to be well-advertised to the people (Parks and Recreation Master Planning). Citizens can communicate whether they intend to use a space for active or passive activity (Parks and Recreation Master Planning). While the first intention requires specific organization of the space to be fit for certain types of recreational use, the latter does not (Parks and Recreation Master Planning). It would greatly help to inform planning so that structures are not created that end up not being heavily used. In general, constructively involving the public in the planning process makes it so that resources are properly allocated to align with a purpose crafted by the public.


YouTube. Parks and Recreation Master Planning. Accessed on May 2 2021.

Comment by Fenton Kay:

Good post, Mary. Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and other national parks each have one or more hotels inside the park. Many of those hotels were originally built by the railroad as Harvey Houses. Today management of the hotels is done by contractors. What role do you see public participation playing in the decisions concerning what contractor should be selected for the hotels? Should those decisions be made at the local, the regional, or the national level?

My Comment:

In theory, public participation could lead to changing the type of contractor selected for the hotels in national parks insofar as its input has the power to influence the National Park Service (NPS). Conservation is supposed to be the top priority over recreational opportunities (Thomas 2009). In order to ensure conservation as a priority, the local public population should be able to significantly sway decisions regarding hotel contractors. The NPS has favored recreational tourism over natural resource management, equating an unimpaired national park with a carefully and properly developed park (Thomas 2009). Consequentially, short-term economic gain and catering to brief tourist visits have taken precedence over the long-term scenic beauty and wilderness of parks (Thomas 2009). It is concerning that individual park managers have flexibility in how they decide to meet primary legal requirements about specific management proposals for each area of the park, especially considering resource conditions and visitor experiences (Thomas 2009). The NPS may select a developer who is looking to profit in the short-term, and perhaps seems harmless on the surface if the project is restricted to the front country. However, a major problem is that hotels and other types of developments are concentrated in the front country areas which may no longer be sufficient because of the large amount of development that has been occurring adjacent to the national parks (Thomas 2009). The result is an island of semi natural habitat surrounded by a sea of development (Thomas 2009). Ultimately, the park would lose many of the wild qualities it was created to preserve (Thomas 2009). On the other hand, the local public is most likely to make decisions aligned with the long-term conservation of the park because they want it to be in pristine condition for their multiple visits over many years. As residents, they are motivated to protect front country development because they feel the effects of it seeping into their homes and do not want it to continue. Increasing public participation would empower the local voice to play a factor in the decision making.


Daniels, Thomas. 2009. “National Parks: Where the Timeless Landscape Meets the Tourism Clock”. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research. 26(2): 111-123.

Comment by Fenton Kay:

Great response, Mary. It is interesting that, a least in the past, the NPS tended to favor one or maybe two concessionaires. My brother and his wife both worked (they met at Yosemite) for several summers at Yosemite for the same company. I think the same company may have held to concession rights at Yellowstone as well.

My Comment:

It makes sense the NPS built a relationship with the one to two concessionaires from the original projects they collaborated on and then continued to work with them. That’s romantic they met while both working at Yosemite. It brings out a theme of how the same people repeatedly doing projects together goes a long way and endeavors just build from there.

Comment by John Glover:

I definitely agree that grassroots style operations are critical to increasing public involvement. Locals deserve to know what is being done with their natural resources, and managers can adjust their plans to meet specific demands. That being said, what do you think would be the best way to ingrain grassroots communication into the NEPA process? While expanding public comment would definitely help the more environmentally-conscious members of the community participate more, it might leave people out due to an information gap.

One idea I have would be to mandate public outreach events. This would either involve the management agency setting up a Q&A with the public, or going to public events like farmer’s markets. While working for the USFWS, I participated in outreach events to educate the public on the benefits of our river management efforts. Many members of the public did not know they had endangered fish species in their waters, or what we were doing to manage them. By conducting regular outreach, we were able to raise awareness and improve public perceptions.

Comment by Samatha Krieger:

Hi Mary, John, and Dr. Kay,

I think the discussion developing here is an important one. We have pointed out the importance of public involvement, but we still have the issue of inclusivity of that involvement. As we have mentioned in the previous weeks, there is always the concern of how we reach the diverse public. I like the idea of going to public events, but you would need to make sure to go to a wide array of events geared toward the eco-conscious as well as the general public. When someone mentions public outreach events, I actually think back to my childhood in rural, agricultural, Illinois and several years in 4-H and dealing with the University of Illinois Extension Office, which was heavily centered on providing farmers with various resources. They also were very focused on promoting agricultural education in the community and focused this attention on children’s programs. The Extension Office was available as a resource for youth clubs like 4-H and local schools, providing educational classes and employees as speakers on farming matters when scheduled. Interacting with school-aged children was an interesting way to provide educational information across socioeconomic lines in such a small area because all the children went to the same school and were in many of the same clubs and activities.

Although this idea is creative, it still leaves gaps. What about older people or people without children? Or kids who decide to not be a part of the program? I think public outreach at various events is a great idea, but I think the planning of where to do outreach needs to be pre-planned so we can intentionally try to reach as many people as possible.

Great discussion this week!

My Comment:

Hi John,

First off, I public involvement is definitely necessary in terms of effectively managing natural resources and keeping people safe.

I was hiking in Pisgah forest outside of Asheville, NC with my dog yesterday and found it interesting how the public hikers were notifying one another about safety precautions. Specifically, multiple people mentioned to me that the overlook peak was a steep drop off, and it was important to keep my dog close to me so that he does not fall off the cliff. It was a much more effective stream of communication compared to only having the sign at the trailhead. To answer the question, there should be a part of the NEPA process that requires the project managers to outline how the plan meets specific public demands. In order to get that information, the public managers would have to obtain proof of how they generated insight about the public’s demands. Perhaps, just as there is a difference between active and passive management, conservation and preservation, there is also a difference in ways project managers can aim to generate public involvement. The public comment is passive as it is less focused on outreach and more so only accessible to those environmentalists who know about it. Great ideas about public outreach events. I would add mail-out surveys or even finding a way to have booths outside the trailheads at national parks. The project managers can also partner with local conservation organizations to get some assistance in outreach.

Comment by Fenton Kay:

Mary, that’s a great observation that I had not even thought about. People telling people – what a concept – I’m really pleased that it is occurring.