Yosemite National Park, CA

Applied Trails Research partnered with the University of Vermont’s Park Studies Lab to apply spatial methods to the study of crowding and experiential quality at a spectrum of recreation and attraction sites.

Yosemite National Park

The Park Studies Lab sought to identify thresholds of social density at which crowding alters visitors’ behavior or unacceptably degrades the quality of recreation experiences within Yosemite National Park. Applied Trails Research partnered with the Park Studies Lab to assist them with the collection of detailed site-level spatial data. These data were used to develop spatial models for each recreation area and attraction site that integrate with the Lab’s social density simulations and visitor survey data. Traditionally this type of social density and experiential quality investigation results in site-specific management recommendations and capacities expressed in terms of individuals/site.

With the addition of Applied Trails Research’s spatial models, the Park Studies Lab seeks to quantify, compare and discuss social density and visitor carrying capacity in standardized terms of area/individual. Making the leap from quantifying visitor densities and capacities in site-specific terms to standardized spatially explicit terms will help park and recreation researchers to draw more generalized conclusions about experiential quality and carrying capacity.

The ultimate goal of this work is to advance answers to questions about experiential quality, carrying capacity, and use limitation along with the development of guidance for park managers seeking to balance public access with resource protection.

The figures below illustrate how Applied Trails Research’s spatial models were integrated with the Park Studies Lab’s simulations of social density and visitor survey data:

  • These examples are drawn from three of the study’s sites; the O’Shaughnessy Dam in the Hetch Hetchy Valley (Figures 1 through 3), Glacier Point (Figures 4 through 6), and Cathedral Beach in Yosemite Valley (Figures 7 through 9).
  • Figures 1, 4 & 7 are examples of the social density simulations presented to visitor survey respondents at each site by the Park Studies Lab. The simulations presented here depict the middle of the range of social densities simulated for visitor evaluation.
  • Figures 2, 5 & 8 depict the spatial models developed by Applied Trails Research, with the portion of each site inside of the bright green line being the area represented in the social density simulations and the green dot representing the vantage point from which the simulations were constructed.
  • Figures 3, 6 & 9 integrate the results of visitor surveys with the spatial models, depicting thresholds of use at which survey respondents believe crowding contributes to unacceptable experiential quality at each site.

Partner Organizations