The future of wilderness is open for discussion and debate. In this paper we invite readers to consider four wilderness scenarios, any one of which, or combination of which, seems possible based on current demographic, social, and cultural trends.
If wilderness experiences are distinct from general outdoor recreation experiences, then wilderness visitor research needs to reflect the distinction. If there are distinguishing characteristics, they would be linked to social and cultural meanings embedded in the Wilderness Act of 1964 and contemporary interpretations of it.
What information is needed to facilitate enhanced management of visitor experiences in wilderness? The final session of the workshop comprised a facilitated process with the 20 participants to identify research and information needs to support wilderness visitor experience management.
Does research help managers provide opportunities for visitors to have high quality experiences in wilderness? Difficulties in applying visitor experience research result from several factors: the nature of wilderness itself, the character of the wilderness visitor experience challenge as a research and management topic, and the paradigm of research applications employed by wilderness scientists.
A large and growing body of research on outdoor recreation and the wilderness experience has been conducted over the nearly 50 years since passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964. A number of conceptual and empirical frameworks have emerged from this body of knowledge that can be used to help define and manage the wilderness experience.
Wilderness managers are faced with making judgments about the appropriateness of different types of recreational activities. One of the criteria they use is wilderness dependence-the notion that an activity should be allowed, or privileged if rationing is required, if it depends on a wilderness setting for much of its value.
Planning is where science, public interests and management of wilderness areas come together. Unfortunately, science and information specifically supporting wilderness experiences, if any exists, is often perceived by managers as subjective, value laden, and hard to defend. This can sometimes lead to the tough decisions about providing high quality wilderness experiences being "kicked down the road" for another time/manager.
While there is a long history of research on factors influencing wilderness recreation visitor experiences, there has been little focused research to understand the experiences of users visiting wilderness under legislative special provisions or the impact of these special provisions on wilderness recreation visitors. There are some exceptions.