Integrating Geospatial Technology and Ecological Research in the Analysis of Sustainable Recreation Infrastructure

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Virginia Tech

This dissertation is an inquiry into two disciplines: recreation ecology and geospatial analysis. The dissertation consists of three journal article manuscripts focusing on the sustainability of recreational infrastructure components in backcountry and wilderness settings. Two articles focus on campsite conditions, nodal areas of visitor use and impact. The third article focuses on trail conditions, linear corridors of visitor use and impact. Campsites and trails comprise the most visited and impacted components of recreation infrastructure; locations where protected natural area visitors spend the majority of their time and where the majority of resource impacts occur. Resource conditions at these locations affect the quality of recreational experiences and are the focus of management and scientific efforts to measure and manage visitation-related resource impacts. The articles provide a strong scientific background to understanding ecological processes and better preparing recreation planners and managers for sustainable infrastructure management decision-making.

The first article assesses the sustainability of campsites over thirty-two years of use in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in northern Minnesota. Differences in vegetation composition, tree cover and groundcover from 1982 to 2014 were measured. Paired t-tests analyzed significant ecological differences on campsites and paired controls over time. Best management practices for managing campsites for the long-term are suggested.

The second article analyzes the extent of non-native plants on campsites over thirty-two years. Paired t-tests were used to look at cover and abundance on campsites and control areas between 1982 and 2014. This paper explores ecological benefits and degradation incurred by non-native plants on campsites over time and discusses implications for wilderness character at BWCAW.

The third article is interdisciplinary, incorporating ground-based recreation ecology measurements with technical spatial analyses and modeling to improve understanding of erosional processes on trails. Fine resolution terrain data was used to examine terrain metrics as they relate to amount of soil loss. Multiple Linear Regression was used to test a number of variables taken from the field and derived from Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software using a 1m Digital Elevation Model. This paper explores relationships between different terrain variables and soil loss observed on the Appalachian Trail. It provides insights on which terrain features influence erosion and provides recommendations to trail managers to design more sustainable trails.

recreation ecology, trails, campsites, non-native plants, geospatial analysis