Date of Award

Spring 2022

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 J Barcelona


Visitation to parks and protected areas (PPAs) has become increasingly widespread in the United States. This increased visitation is especially concerning within congressionally designated wilderness areas where federal agencies are dually tasked with preserving wilderness character while simultaneously providing high-quality outdoor recreation experiences. This study investigated the influence of social, situational, and ecological factors on outdoor recreation visitor behaviors and decision-making within the Lye Brook Wilderness (LBW) area in Vermont, USA. An on-site intercept survey (n=576) was employed to collect data from LBW visitors in the summer of 2021. Multi-variate statistics (e.g., binary logistic regression, structural equation modeling) indicate visitor behaviors (e.g., coping, substitution) and decision-making (e.g., intention-to-return) are significantly influenced by ecological (e.g., trail conditions, weather), situational (e.g., litter, access), and social factors (e.g., conflict). Moreover, the presence of various weather conditions was found to significantly influence the severity of perceived social, situational, and ecological impacts. Study results indicate outdoor recreation experiences are multifaceted, necessitating a suite of social, situational, and ecological considerations, especially when examining the relationship between visitor coping behaviors and intention-to-return. This research advances the coping framework, provides empirical evidence for future examination of social-ecological system (SES) theory, and emphasizes the utility of employing an adaptive systems approach for sustainable PPA management.