You are here

Wilderness Visitor Experience Workshop: Celebrating 50 years of wilderness research

Date: April 23, 2015

Workshop celebrates lessons learned from half a century of research on visitor experience and prepares for the 50 years of wilderness research and stewardship


Past and ongoing research provides insights into the nature of wilderness experiences and the factors that influence experience quality (photo by David Cole, USFS).
Past and ongoing research provides insights into the nature of wilderness experiences and the factors that influence experience quality (photo by David Cole, USFS).

Background

Wilderness areas provide unique visitor experiences - experiences that need special kinds of protection. The immediate thoughts, emotions and feelings associated with being in wilderness and the more enduring changes in attitudes, perceptions, and sense of self that arise from these encounters with wilderness are different from experiences in other recreational settings. Since they were poorly understood, research on wilderness visitors and experiences began shortly before passage of The Wilderness Act in 1964. Past and ongoing research by the Rocky Mountain Research Station and its partners provides insights into the nature of wilderness experiences and the factors that influence experience quality.

The Wilderness Visitor Experience Workshop was held at the Lubrecht Experimental Forest near Missoula, MT, on April 4-7, 2011 with the purposes of celebrating lessons learned from half a century of research on visitor experience and preparing for the 50 years of wilderness research and stewardship. The workshop resulted in proceedings that reviewed the state-of-knowledge regarding wilderness visitor experiences and included example of recent empirical research.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute and The Wilderness Institute at the University of Montana provided Financial support for the workshop.

Key Findings

  • High quality wilderness experiences provide numerous benefits to society: personal, societal and economic.

  • Research on wilderness visitor experience initially emphasized motivations for taking wilderness trips and the experiential outcomes of wilderness visits.

  • Recent research more deeply explores the lived experience in wilderness and the process by which experience is constructed and developed into long-lasting relationships. Studies also focus on the effects of setting attributes, including use density, on visitor experience.

  • Wilderness experiences are highly diverse and idiosyncratic and visitors are highly adaptable and adept at negotiating the situations they experience.

  • It is impossible to know how to most effectively steward wilderness experiences without first deciding who and what to manage for. Management action or inaction cannot guarantee high quality experiences for everyone. 

  • Research on visitor experience contributes to the protection of high quality experiences in wilderness areas now and into the future.



National Strategic Program Areas: 
Outdoor Recreation
RMRS Strategic Priorities: 
Human-Landscape Interactions
Geography: 
National
Principal Investigators: 
Principal Investigators - External: 
David N. Cole - RMRS Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute
External Partners: 
Jeffrey J. Brooks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Troy E. Hall, University of Idaho
Erin Seekamp, North Carolina State University
William E. Hammitt, Clemson University
William T. Borrie, University of Montana
Angela M. Meyer, University of Alberta
Ian M. Foster, University of Montana
John Shultis, Northern British Columbia
Steven R. Martin, Humboldt State University
Kristen Pope, Humboldt State University
Chad P. Dawson, State University of New York, Syracuse
Keith C. Russell, Western Washington University
Kerri Cahill, Denver Service Center
Mark Fincher, National Park Service
Robert E. Manning, University of Vermont
Stephen F. McCool, The University of Montana
Joseph W. Roggenbuck, Virginia Tech
William Stewart, University of Illinois
Daniel Dustin, University of Utah
Jeff Rose, University of Utah
Adrienne Cachelin, University of Utah
Wynn Shooter, University of Utah
Scott Schumann, University of Utah