The nature of the pandemic: Exploring the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic upon recreation visitor behaviors and experiences in parks and protected areas

Michael D. Ferguson*, Myles L. Lynch, Darrick Evensen, Lauren A. Ferguson, Robert Barcelona, Georgia Giles, Marianne Leberman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically affected parks and protected areas and overall recreation visitation across the United States. While outdoor recreation has been demonstrated to be beneficial, especially during a pandemic, the resulting increase in recreation visitation raises concerns regarding the broader influence of social, situational, ecological, and behavioral factors upon overall visitor experiences. This study investigated the extent to which recreation visitors’ behaviors and experiences have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic within the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). A modified drop-off pick-up survey method was employed to collect population-level data from WMNF visitors from June to August of 2020 (n=317), at the height of the pandemic. Results from this mixed-method study suggest social factors (e.g., crowding and conflict), situational factors (e.g., access and closures), ecological factors (e.g., vegetation damage), behavioral factors (e.g., substitution), and sociodemographic factors (e.g., gender and income) significantly influenced overall visitor decision-making and experience quality within the WMNF. For example, more than one-third of visitors indicated the pandemic had either a major or severe impact upon their WMNF recreation experience. A more nuanced investigation of qualitative data determined that the majority of pandemic-related recreation impacts revolved around the themes of social impacts, general negative recreation impacts, situational and ecological impacts, and behavioral adaptation impacts. Moreover, historically marginalized populations (e.g., low-income households and females) within the sample reported significantly higher recreation experience impacts during the pandemic. This study demonstrates the influence of the pandemic upon outdoor recreation visitor experiences and behaviors and considers outdoor recreation as a central component within the broader social-ecological systems framework. This study demonstrates the influence of the pandemic upon outdoor recreation visitor experiences and behaviors and considers resource users a central component within the broader social-ecological systems conceptual framework.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100498
JournalJournal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism
Early online date28 Feb 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Feb 2022

Keywords

  • outdoor recreation
  • visitor management
  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • social-ecological systems
  • visitor behaviors
  • visitor decision-making
  • parks and protected areas

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