Whether They Return: Modeling Outdoor Recreation Behaviors, Decision Making, and Intention-to-Return in Congressionally Designated Wilderness

Academic Article


  • Visitation to parks and protected areas (PPAs) has become increasingly widespread in the United States. This increased visitation is especially concerning within congressionally designated wilderness areas where federal agencies are tasked with the dual mandate of preserving wilderness character while simultaneously providing high-quality outdoor recreation experiences. This study investigated the influence of social, situational, and ecological factors on outdoor recreation visitor behaviors and decision making within the Lye Brook Congressionally Designated Wilderness (LBW) area in Vermont, USA. An on-site intercept survey (n = 576) was employed to collect data from LBW visitors in the summer of 2021. Descriptive and multi-variate statistics (e.g., binary logistic regression, structural equation modeling) indicated that visitor behaviors (e.g., coping, substitution) and decision-making (e.g., intention-to-return) were significantly influenced by social (e.g., conflict), situational (e.g., litter, access), and ecological (e.g., trail conditions, weather) impacts. Moreover, the presence of various weather conditions was found to significantly influence the severity of perceived social, situational, and ecological impacts. Study results indicated that outdoor recreation experiences are multifaceted, necessitating a suite of social, situational, and ecological considerations, especially when examining the relationship between visitor coping behaviors and intention-to-return. This research advances the coping framework, provides empirical support for future examination of social–ecological system (SES) theory, and emphasizes the utility of employing an adaptive systems approach for sustainable PPA management.
  • Authors

  • Ferguson, Michael
  • Caraynoff, Alexander R
  • Ferguson, Lauren
  • Barcelona, Robert J
  • Evensen, Darrick
  • Knox, Holly
  • Pytlik, Steven
  • Grosz, Donna
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • July 2022
  • Published In

  • Forests  Journal
  • Keywords

  • outdoor recreation
  • parks and protected areas
  • social-ecological systems
  • visitor behaviors and decision making
  • visitor use management
  • weather impacts
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 1018
  • End Page

  • 1018
  • Volume

  • 13
  • Issue

  • 7