People who love the outdoors can live their whole lives searching for that perfect spot. The new research of the University of Montana (UM) suggests exactly what they are looking for, a report said.
In the report, Will Rice, an assistant professor at UM of outdoor recreation, wildland management utilized big data to analyze the 179 highly-popular campsites of Watchman Campground, Utah‘s Zion National Park. Online bookings allow campers to reserve various sizes and amenities. People book sites on average 51 to 142 days ahead of time, which provides hard data about the demand.
Rice and Soyoung Park, a colleague at Florida Atlantic University, sorted through almost 23,000 reservations. According to the researchers, demand was driven most by electricity availability and price. Demand was also affected by the proximity to nearby rivers and ease of access. Other factors, such as the view of canyon walls and the number of neighbors nearby, had a less significant impact.
Rice also said that the results were very relatable to Americans. Rice said that anyone who has ever chosen a campsite in a campground knows the difficulty of finding a bathroom.
He stated that previous studies on recreation decision-making have been based on surveys of people asking about their preferences, basically asking what they like. The Recreation Information Database made it possible to use the Recreation Information Database’s revealed preferences, which are observations of people’s decision-making.
“This was a breakthrough study,” he said in the report.
This database includes information about all bookings made through Recreation.gov, which allows reservations for many national parks in America.
These site variables were studied at Watchman Campground by researchers: distance to nearest dump station; distance from nearest trash or recycling station or toilet; price and electricity; proximity to nearby campsites; shade; access to Virgin River; direct access canyon walls; views of canyon walls. These variables were divided into three categories: social, ecological, and managerial.
The availability of certain amenities can also influence how quickly they are booked, in general. The average booking window for a canyon wall view is three days longer than the others. Popularity is also reflected in the availability of sites early, which can be attributed to their affordability, accessibility to electricity, as well as ease of access.
Rice stated that they were surprised by the lower popularity of sites with direct access to the Virgin River. Rice suspects that this could be due to known problems with the river’s quality. Zion National Park issued a press release asking visitors not to swim in the river.
Rice stated that their research and the new model they created can assist park managers in making better decisions regarding campground design and recreation planning.
In the report, he said that park managers have worked with researchers since the 1960s to understand how people choose campsites, trails, or other recreation areas. This information is essential for recreation planning. It will not only improve visitor experiences but also ensure the preservation of ecological resources and an equitable allocation of recreation opportunities.
It also shows the utility of big-data approaches to measuring demand for stretched recreational assets.
Rice stated that his findings regarding Zion’s Watchman Campground are a testament to the value of these methods elsewhere. “Campers are always looking for the perfect campsite,” he stated in the report.