A substantial amount of backcountry (about 250,000 acres) in Rocky Mountain National Park [RMNP of the Park] may be designated as wilderness areas in the coming years. Currently, over 3 million visitors drives through the park on Trail Ridge Road, camp in designated campgrounds, day hike, etc. each year. Many of those visitors also report using the backcountry-wilderness areas that are not easily accessible by roads or trails. Use of the backcountry is growing at RMNP and is accompanied by changing visitor expectations and preferences for wilderness management. For these reasons it is of great importance for the Park to periodically assess what types of environments and conditions wilderness users seek to facilitate a quality experience.
To assist in this effort, the Political Analysis and Science Assistance [PSAS] program / Fort Collins Center / U.S. Geological Survey, in close collaboration with personnel and volunteers from RMNP, as well as the Natural Resource Recreation and Tourism [NRRT] Department at Colorado State University, launched a research effort in the summer of 2002 to investigate visitorsa?? wilderness experiences in the Park.
Specifically, the purpose of this research was: (1) To determine what constitutes a wilderness experience; (2) To identify important places, visual features, and sounds essential to a quality wilderness experience and; (3) To determine what aspects may detract from wilderness experience. Thus, answers to these questions should provide insight for Park managers about visitorsa?? expectation for wilderness recreation and the conditions they seek for quality wilderness experiences. Ultimately, this information can be used to support wilderness management decisions within RMNP.
The social science technique of Visitor Employed Photography [VEP] was used to obtain information from visitors about wilderness experiences. Visitors were selected at random from Park-designated wilderness trails, in proportion to their use, and asked to participate in the survey. Respondents were given single use, 10-exposure cameras and photo-log diaries to record experiences. A total of 293 cameras were distributed, with a response rate of 87%. Following the development of the photos, a copy of the photos, two pertinent pages from the photo-log, and a follow-up survey were mailed to respondents. Fifty-six percent of the follow-up surveys were returned. Findings from the two surveys were analyzed and compareda?|