Visitor Use & Social Science
Understanding the natural and cultural contexts of parks has long been an important aspect of managing the National Park System. The agency's governing legislation protects these resources and thus continues to play a critical part in the designation and management of park units. Providing a high-quality visitor experience has always been a core component in that same legislation. Recently, however, managers have noticed increasing numbers of park visitors are now affecting the quality of both natural and cultural resources. Land managers are using social science methods to associate visitor characteristics and behavior with resource conditions. This approach is helping park managers take a more in-depth look at how science can manage visitor use before unacceptable impacts to resources occur. Given the complexity of visitation in a park like Yosemite, social science is one way to understand resource protection from visitor caused impacts.
The Visitor Use & Social Sciences branch within the Resources Management and Science division conducts research to inform visitor use management, impact monitoring, and planning-related projects. A focus is put on the social-psychological components of resources management, including the visitor experience. Additionally, existing conditions and physical resource impact and visitor-use documentation are all components of understanding the relationships between visitor use and the quality of biophysical, cultural and social/experiential resource conditions within the park. This includes transportation, front country, and Wilderness visitor-use issues. The national parks, like other federally protected lands, offer a variety of visitor experiences and social resources that can and should be maintained.
According to the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act, quality visitor experiences should be fostered while providing for natural and cultural resource conservation. Solitude is a great example of a social resource that numerous visitors seek when they venture into Yosemite’s designated Wilderness. With excessive visitor use, a valued resource, such as a sense of solitude, can diminish or even disappear.
Here are ways to understand visitor-use patterns in parks:
Yosemite Visitor-Use Studies
Examine the Yosemite National Park Visitor Study: Winter 2008 [637 kb PDF].
Other Yosemite Statistics
Did You Know?
In Wawona and downstream, the South Fork Merced River provides habitat for a rare plant, the Sierra sweet bay (Myrica hartwegii). This special status shrub is found in only five Sierra Nevada counties. In Yosemite, it occurs exclusively on sand bars and river banks along the South Fork Merced River downstream from Wawona and on Big Creek.