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Individual Highlight

Updated Computer Model Helps Managers Better Estimate Visitation to Camp Sites

Photo of Snapshot : Model simulates travel patterns for 11,000 groups in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Principal Investigators(s) :
Watson, Alan E.  
Research Location : Superior National Forest, Minnesota
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2012
Highlight ID : 139


Recreation within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the Superior National Forest in Minnesota is allocated using a permit system that is designed to avoid congestion and crowded conditions. Visitors to the area can reserve a limited number of overnight permits, must follow travel group size restrictions, and are only allowed to camp at designated campsites. Quotas exist for each wilderness area access point during the heavy use season. These quotas are based on a model that was developed many years ago using information on visitor travel patterns at that time.

In 1970, the first efforts were made to build a recreation travel simulation model for this U.S. wilderness area. A second-generation model was developed from itineraries collected in 1980, and the final update was made to that model in 1993. To further update information on visitor travel patterns across this large, heavily used wilderness, Forest Service scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station developed a new computer simulation model that predicts campsite occupancy.

The model accounts for the unique travel patterns of the 11,000 groups that visit the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness each summer. The groups choose from 61 entry points and travel through 95 backcountry zones. The model provides a user-friendly interface for interactive modeling and the modeling can output a variety of estimates about overnight visitor use. The findings will help provide a basis for recreation managers to make decisions about entrance point quotas or to better understand the influence of natural disturbance or management policies that affect travel patterns.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Superior National Forest, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute
  • University of Montana's College of Forestry and Conservation, Central Michigan University, Christensen Research Company.