Masthead banner of Park Science: Integrating Research and Resource Management in the National Parks; ISSN 1090-9966; link to current issue
Volume 29
Number 1
Spring-Summer 2012
Arrowhead symbol of the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior
Home + About + Author Guidelines + Archive + Subscribe +  
Photo of a volunteer using binoculars to observe visitor behavior and collect data for the study in El Capitan Meadow. Developing an accessible methodology for monitoring visitor use patterns in open landscapes of Yosemite National Park
By Chelsey Walden-Schreiner, Yu-Fai Leung, Todd Newburger, and Brittany Woiderski
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
Methodological considerations
Study area
Findings and discussion
Method benefits and limitations
Lessons learned
About the authors
+ PDF +
Photo of Yosemite Falls from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite Valley.


Figure 1. View of Yosemite Falls from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite Valley.

Open landscapes provide vital habitats for a diverse array of flora and fauna and serve a number of important hydrologic functions. In addition to their ecological importance, open landscapes provide space for varied human activities. While different types of open landscapes—for example, meadows, dunes, and beaches—serve different ecological and social functions, key shared characteristics include high visibility, walkability, and aesthetic appeal (Falk and Balling 2010; Magill 1992) (fig. 1, above). The National Park Service (NPS) actively manages for both resource protection and visitor experience, yet open landscapes are still subject to external and internal threats, including climate change, altered hydrologic regimes, encroaching development, and intense visitor use.

Proliferation of visitor-created informal trails is a common type of impact associated with open landscapes. Informal trails, also called social or unauthorized trails, are visually identifiable pathways that fall outside of the park’s formal trail system (Leung et al. 2002). Informal trails are often inappropriately located with respect to resource protection objectives, can cause landscape and habitat fragmentation, and can negatively affect visitor experience by visually scarring the landscape (Leung et al. 2011; Marion et al. 2006; Wimpey and Marion 2011).

Effective management of open landscapes, especially those subject to high use with significant informal trail presence, requires an understanding of visitor use and its spatial and temporal patterns. Quantitative information on the location and intensity of visitor use can alert managers to potential resource impacts or areas prone to crowding or other experiential impacts. This need motivated development of the monitoring methodology presented in this study. Many methods for monitoring visitor use in parks and protected areas are designed for static locations like entrance stations or trailheads. Human observers and on-site automated counters are common methods to document visitor numbers at these types of locations and are important tools for estimating use numbers (Cessford and Muhar 2003; Pettebone et al. 2010). However, open landscapes, like meadows, present special monitoring challenges because there are often multiple points of access and limited or no infrastructure to confine visitor use, reducing the effectiveness of some visitor use monitoring methods. Additionally, the inclusion of spatially explicit visitor data can lead to a deeper understanding of the relationship between visitor use and resource impacts when integrated with biophysical data like vegetation condition or water quality.

Return to top

This page updated:  10 September 2012

Page 1 of 10 • Next +
From the Editor
Information Crossfile
In Focus
Notes from Abroad
Field Moment
Masthead Information
Half Dome visitor use management
Using GIS analysis to help determine Civil War cannon locations in Manassas National Battlefield Park
Hot research/Cool science: An investigation of permafrost in a changing alpine environment
Live Interactive Virtual Explorations provide students with glimpse of life at the Old Point Loma Lighthouse in the late 1800s
Boston Harbor Islands All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory
The challenges of documenting biodiversity
Monitoring park landscape dynamics through NPScape: Saguaro National Park
Finding and acquiring NPScape products
Mitigating encroachment of park experiences
  Developing an accessible methodology for monitoring visitor use patterns in open landscapes of Yosemite National Park
Understanding endangered plant species population changes at Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park
Related Publications + Explore Nature + + Privacy + Disclaimer + Contact Editor
Web Site Last Updated: 16 September 2015