Low-impact recreational pratices: assessing and improving wilderness user knowledge, behavioral intentions, and behavior

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Virginia Tech

The primary objective of this research was to examine knowledge levels of low-impact recreational practices and to explore the effectiveness of education in reducing impacting behavior among users of Shining Rock Wilderness. Wilderness users were found to have little low-impact knowledge, scoring only 59.7 percent correct on a 10-item multiple choice test. Knowledge of recommended practices regarding campsite selection, one of the most important low-impact behaviors, was much lower at 32.9 percent correct. These low scores are likely due to evolving agency low-impact recommendations and the complexity of the task regarding proper campsite selection behavior. Wilderness users had a moderately strong positive correlation between knowledge of campsite selection recommendations and intentions to select a wilderness campsite. The relationship between knowledge and and actual behavior observed in the wilderness and intentions and behavior appeared to be positive, but conclusions were limited by the small number of field observations.

Posters on proper campsite selection, tent placement, and use of backpack stoves rather than campfires were placed on trailhead signs to increase knowledge, foster appropriate intentions, and improve actual behavior. A field experiment with a control group (e.g., no educational posters) showed that the trailhead posters had little positive effect on knowledge or intentions, improving only one of the five tested knowledge items and one of the three behavioral intentions. The posters improved fire building behavior, but not tent placement or campsite selection. Trailhead posters seem to be more effective at improving behaviors that do not require complex judgments about campsite impacts and wilderness use levels.