Date of Award

Spring 2021

Project Type


Program or Major

Recreation Management and Policy

Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Michael D Ferguson

Second Advisor

Lauren A Ferguson

Third Advisor

Robert Barcelona


Parks and protected areas visitation in the United States has increased substantially over the past several decades, and dramatically within the past few years. This expansion in visitation raises concerns regarding the influence of social, situational, and ecological factors upon visitor experiences, natural resources, and adjacent communities. This study investigated the relationship between three influencing factors and visitors’ behaviors and decision-making on the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) of New Hampshire. A mail-back and online survey method was used to collect data from WMNF visitors from June to August of 2020 (n= 642). Structural equation modeling and binary logistic regression analyses suggest social factors (e.g., crowding and conflict), situational factors (e.g., litter and access), and ecological factors (e.g., weather and seasonality) were significant predictors of visitor decision-making and overall satisfaction on the WMNF. Moreover, a majority of the sample consistently employed behavioral adaptations such as resource and temporal substitution, and in some instances, permanently abandoned their recreation experiences altogether, all in an effort to maintain overall visitor satisfaction. This study demonstrates that in addition to social factors, situational and ecological factors should also be integrated when assessing the broader human-nature relationship. This research advances the social-ecological systems framework and validates the importance of integrating recreation, natural resource, and community considerations when sustainably managing parks and protected areas.