Date of Award

Summer 7-30-2015

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Forest Resources


Sandra De Urioste-Stone

Second Committee Member

John Daigle

Third Committee Member

Linda Silka


Protected areas around the world offer countless benefits to nature and society; however sustainable management of protected areas has become increasingly difficult as trends change and new challenges emerge. To address the complexity of recreation planning, there have been several planning tools developed to guide managers with integrating biophysical and social data to inform management decisions (McCool et al., 2007). This research identifies the major successes and challenges associated with existing visitor-use management frameworks in protected areas around the world. Focusing on one framework developed for the U.S. National Park Service, Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP), the study highlights the experiences and lessons learned associated with visitor-use planning based on the perceptions of experts around the globe. The aim of this study is to assist scientists and managers alike with the information needed to identify useful planning tools, and achieve desired outcomes through effective planning.

The first phase of the study uses the Delphi technique to facilitate interactions among international and academic experts to: (1) determine how experts define an effective visitor management planning program; (2) highlight the most important elements to be included in a visitor management framework; and (3) identify facilitating and limiting factors impacting VERP planning. The second phase is a multi-case study of three U.S. national parks; using qualitative semi-structured interviews, participant observation, archival documents and reflective journaling to gain a rich understanding of user perceptions where VERP is actually being applied.

Results show that global and U.S. experts are consistent in their reports that the Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP) framework can lead to achieving stated objectives; when backed by an agency with the capacity to effectively and sustainably support a long-term planning and monitoring program. Global and U.S. experts alike reported that applying science to decision-making is highly valuable to achieving desired outcomes, yet the knowledge and resources provided to management staff to guide science integration is perceived as the most significant barrier to successful implementation of VERP planning.

This research contributes to the ongoing work of recreation planning by documenting lessons learned to inform future planning. Results can be used to facilitate new developments in visitor-use planning procedures where needed; yet results suggest that upcoming research should focus on the structure and capacity of the implementing agency to inform organizational strategies that will support visitor-use planning into the future.