The nature of the pandemic: Exploring the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic upon recreation visitor behaviors and experiences in parks and protected areas.

Academic Article


  • UNLABELLED: The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically affected parks and protected areas and overall recreation visitation across the United States. While outdoor recreation has been demonstrated to be beneficial, especially during a pandemic, the resulting increase in recreation visitation raises concerns regarding the broader influence of social, situational, ecological, and behavioral factors upon overall visitor experiences. This study investigated the extent to which recreation visitors' behaviors and experiences have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic within the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). A modified drop-off pick-up survey method was employed to collect population-level data from WMNF visitors from June to August of 2020 (n=317), at the height of the pandemic. Results from this mixed-method study suggest social factors (e.g., crowding and conflict), situational factors (e.g., access and closures), ecological factors (e.g., vegetation damage), behavioral factors (e.g., substitution), and sociodemographic factors (e.g., gender and income) significantly influenced overall visitor decision-making and experience quality within the WMNF. For example, more than one-third of visitors indicated the pandemic had either a major or severe impact upon their WMNF recreation experience. A more nuanced investigation of qualitative data determined that the majority of pandemic-related recreation impacts revolved around the themes of social impacts, general negative recreation impacts, situational and ecological impacts, and behavioral adaptation impacts. Moreover, historically marginalized populations (e.g., low-income households and females) within the sample reported significantly higher recreation experience impacts during the pandemic. This study demonstrates the influence of the pandemic upon outdoor recreation visitor experiences and behaviors and considers outdoor recreation as a central component within the broader social-ecological systems framework. This study demonstrates the influence of the pandemic upon outdoor recreation visitor experiences and behaviors and considers resource users a central component within the broader social-ecological systems conceptual framework. MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS: This study found that during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, social, situational, ecological, behavioral, and sociodemographic factors significantly influenced overall visitor decision-making andexperience quality:· Social and general recreation impacts were most common, with approximately 56% of the sample reporting these issues.· Results suggest significant crowding and conflict impacts stemmed from interactions between in-state and out-of-state visitors, largely based upon perceived violations of pandemic protocols.· Moreover, historically marginalized populations stated unique recreation impacts during the pandemic. For instance, visitors from low-income households reported significantly less substitution options as opposed to high-income visitors.· Female visitors perceived significantly more pandemic-related conflict than male visitors.Study findings suggest visitor crowding and conflict should be prioritized by resource managers, especially amongst historically marginalized populations. Resource managers should consider adopting a broader social-ecological systems approach to parks and protected areas management, particularly during a global pandemic.
  • Authors

  • Ferguson, Michael
  • Lynch, Myles L
  • Evensen, Darrick
  • Ferguson, Lauren
  • Barcelona, Robert
  • Giles, Georgia
  • Leberman, Marianne
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • March 2023
  • Keywords

  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • Outdoor recreation
  • Parks and protected areas
  • Social-ecological systems
  • Visitor behaviors
  • Visitor decision-making
  • Visitor management
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 100498
  • Volume

  • 41