Director's Order graphic

(Send comments to Brian Forist by February 16, 2004)



Effective Date:

Sunset Date:

This Director's Order supersedes NPS-82 (Public Use Reporting) and Staff Directive 76-8 (Revised) on the Public Reporting Program. This Director's Order, in conjunction with the Counting and Reporting Instructions and the Summary of Survey Findings, outlines and identifies acceptable approved practices and requirements.

Table of Contents

I.    Purpose and Background
II.  Authorities
III. Policies and Procedures
      A. Governing Concepts
      B. Documentation
          1. Counting and Reporting Instructions
          2. Summary of Survey Findings
              a. Visitor Surveys
          3. Monthly Public Use Report
          4. Annual Statistical Abstract
      C. Starting a Public Use Counting Program at a New Park Unit

      D. Temporary Modifications
      E. Difficulties or Problems
      F. Noting Reasons for Anomalies
      G. Definitions
IV. Roles and Responsibilities
      A. Superintendents
      B. Regions and Support Offices
      C. Associate Director for Natural Resource Stewardship and Science
      D. Visiting Chief Social Scientist
      E. Public Use Statistics Office

I.  Purpose and Background

Information about visitation and public use of units of the National Park System is in constant demand. The National Park Service (NPS) Public Use Data Collecting and Reporting Program is managed by the Public Use Statistics Office (PUSO) under direction of the Visiting Chief Social Scientist (VCSS) and the Associate Director for Natural Resource Stewardship and Science (ADNRSS).

Information about public use of national parks has been collected since 1904, before the NPS was established. Since the early days of informally monitoring visitation levels, trip origin of visitors, and transportation modes used to get to the parks, the NPS has developed a formal system for collecting, compiling, and reporting public use data. Although the system has changed little in emphasis and operation since the late 1960s, careful attention is needed to keep the data collection consistent and reliable.

The purpose of this Director's Order is to set forth policies and procedures for collecting and reporting public use data at units of the National Park System. This Director's Order describes the Servicewide Public Use Data Collecting and Reporting Program, establishes policies and procedures for counting and reporting visitation by the public, and defines the roles and responsibilities of park, regional, Public Use Statistics Office (PUSO) and Washington office personnel in implementing the program.

As is the case with all components of the NPS directives system, this Director's Order is intended only to improve the internal management of the NPS, and is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies, instrumentalities or entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.

II.  Authorities

Authority to issue this Director's Order is contained in the NPS Organic Act (16 USC 1 through 4). Part 245 of the Department of the Interior (DOI) Manual delegates to the Director of the NPS the Secretary of the Interior's authority to supervise, manage, and operate the National Park System.

The National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-391, Sec. 202; 16 U.S.C. 5932) requires that the management of units of the National Park System be enhanced by the availability and utilization of a broad program of the highest quality science and information.

In addition, all federal recreation land managing agencies measure and report public use in accordance with standards set forth in a 1965 Interagency Agreement between the Department of the Interior (National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service), Department of Agriculture (U.S. Forest Service), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: A Uniform Method of Measuring and Reporting Public Use on the Public Lands and Waters of the United States. Other requirements for reporting include Coordination Memorandum No. 1 dated April 15, 1969, covering use reporting at all federal recreation land areas where fees are collected as required by Public Law 88-29.

III.  Policies and Procedures

The following guidance is specified for the Public Use Data Collecting and Reporting Program:

A.  Governing Concepts
Public use data will be collected, analyzed and reported in a consistent manner throughout all units of the National Park System. Park units will contribute timely, accurate data to the Servicewide Public Use Data Collecting and Reporting Program. This data will document monthly workload requirements and the annual history of park use relative to seasonality, budget, and staff. The public use data developed and published by the NPS will be accurate and reliable. It will be useful for a variety of park and recreation planning and operational functions for the benefit of the American public.

The objectives of the Public Use Data Collecting and Reporting Program are to:
· design a statistically valid, reliable, and uniform method of collecting and reporting public use data for each independent unit administered by the NPS;
· enact a variety of quality control checks to eliminate errors;
· provide analysis and to verify measurements of the public use data;
· ensure consistency of data collection within areas of the NPS; and
· support the continuous collection and timely publication of public use data.

Public use data will be collected and reported at all areas either administered or managed by the NPS, whether solely or in partnership or association with other entities (i.e., states, counties, other federal agencies, private groups, individuals, or foreign governments). The NPS, through the PUSO, will analyze and categorize the data in order to maintain and ensure statistical validity and accuracy of the program. The PUSO will distinguish between those units that are under the sole administration of the NPS and other units that are classified as "miscellaneous areas." The data collected in miscellaneous areas where the NPS has partial administrative responsibility or limited presence will be maintained as a source for identifying internal comparisons but will not be reported in the combined total statistics of those areas directly administered by the NPS. The data from the miscellaneous areas will be maintained and displayed separately in the Annual Statistical Abstract.

B.  Documentation
The Public Use Data Collecting and Reporting Program will prepare a variety of occasional, monthly and annual documents. The PUSO will maintain electronic copies of all data submitted by parks and all documents generated. This data will be made available to the public and to all NPS personnel by being posted to the World Wide Web. Reports will also be available on the World Wide Web. The various documents are described below.

   1.  Counting and Reporting Instructions
The PUSO will conduct periodic reviews of the public use counting instructions for each park and verify and issue the specific counting instructions to keep the data consistent and reliable. It will issue a set of Counting and Reporting Instructions (CI) that contain the procedures for measuring, compiling, and recording public use at each park, including unique counting instructions. A simple desk audit review may consist of an examination of the current set of CI for that park, and telephone verification of procedures and placement of traffic counters. A more complex review may require an on-site visit to the park to review park records, verify park procedures, examine placement of traffic counters and consult with the park staff about changing visitor use patterns.

   2.  Summary of Survey Findings
The Summary of Survey Findings is the report of an individual park's public use surveys and will contain conversion and correction factors needed by the park for valid and accurate reporting. Most parks will require various conversion factors to convert readings from counters (traffic trail, or electric eye) to visits. The conversion factors are established by surveys of public use.

       a) Visitor Surveys.
Certain public use characteristics must be provided directly from visitors, e.g., how long they stay in the park, if they are visiting the park or just passing through, and park exit and re-entry factors during a visit. Visitor surveys will collect such data and will be used to produce person-per-vehicle multipliers or conversion factors, which will be employed to improve the accuracy of public use reporting. The park will conduct surveys according to a sampling protocol designed to represent the general visiting public. The exact form of the questionnaire will depend on the specific information needed by the park.

It is the park's responsibility to maintain current and accurate conversion factors. The PUSO will provide assistance, as available, to parks in such areas by obtaining the necessary clearance from the Visiting Chief Social Scientist and the Office of Management and Budget (in compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995), providing sampling plans for person-per-vehicle surveys, designing a survey form, entering the data, analyzing the results, and compiling and issuing the Summary of Survey Findings.

   3.  Monthly Public Use Report
All independent units administered by the NPS will submit a Monthly Public Use Report by the 15th of each month for the previous monthly reporting period. This report will be submitted for all months even if the park is closed for the season or on a temporary basis. It is the responsibility of the superintendent to work with the PUSO to ensure that an approved set of counting instructions is being used.

The contents of the Monthly Public Use Report will contain the following applicable data:

o Visits (recreation and nonrecreation),

o Hours of use (recreation and nonrecreation) which is converted into visitor days, and

o Overnight stays (concessioner lodges and campgrounds, tents and recreational vehicles in NPS campgrounds, backcountry, group or miscellaneous, and nonrecreation).

   4.  Annual Statistical Abstract
The PUSO will publish the Annual Statistical Abstract containing data from the previous calendar year. Included in the Annual Statistical Abstract will be information on:

o Recreation and non-recreation visits to units of the National Park System, reported systemwide, by state, region, population center and park,

o Recreation visits and visitor days spent in units of the National Park System, reported systemwide, by state, region and park,

o Overnight stays in units of the National Park System, reported by park,

o Forecasts of recreation visits for next two calendar years reported by park, and

o Acreage in the National Park System.

C.  Starting a Public Use Counting Program at a New Park Unit
A new park area should initiate with the PUSO a public use counting program when the park is staffed on a full-time basis and when NPS-administered property or facilities are open to the public and in use on a regular basis. Initiation of a counting program by a park involves notifying the PUSO of the need for assistance and providing a brief description of current public services and activities and any services and activities expected in the immediate future. The PUSO will follow-up to clarify details. Upon completion of basic background work, PUSO will prepare, for park review, public use counting instructions compatible with the standards and conditions of these guidelines.

D.  Temporary Modifications
The counting instructions are considered the official statement of how visitation data is collected and compiled and may not be changed or deviated from without the review and concurrence of the PUSO. Emergencies (e.g., forest fires, floods, and other disasters) may require temporary modifications to the counting instructions. Parks should consult and work with the PUSO in coordinating the implementation of any changes to the counting and data gathering process.

E.  Difficulties or Problems
Any difficulties or problems in reporting public use at the park should be conveyed to the PUSO for pursuit of appropriate remedies. Remedies may include actions such as the modification of the counting instructions or providing direct assistance to the park.

F.  Noting Reasons for Anomalies
Conditions that influence public use will be identified in footnotes in the Annual Statistical Abstract to alert all data users to the apparent anomalies. The park is expected to inform the PUSO of such conditions including road detours, full or partial closing of the park, dates of opening and closing for short season areas, or other factors that may be of significance.

G.  Duplicate Reporting
The applicable rule is that one entrance per individual per day is reportable. A visitor going from park to park is reported separately as long as the areas visited are independently authorized units of the National Park System, not separate portions of the same park. The complexity of the physical layouts of parks and the diversity of their surrounding environments may result in conditions that could involve duplicate counts. Extra care must be taken to eliminate any duplicate counting.

Below are common situations that can lead to duplicate reporting and must be avoided:

o Commuter traffic going to and from work through the park.

o Visitor traffic going to and from outside locations (campers in need of additional supplies or in search of goods and services outside the park).

o Visits to different areas of the same park that involve crossing non-park lands.

o Visitors staying outside the park and making multiple daily visits.

o Visitors counted once upon entry to the park and again as overnight stays.

H.  Definitions
The following definitions will be used in the Public Use Data Collecting and Reporting Program:

o Miscellaneous area: A property that is neither solely federally owned nor directly administered by the NPS, but which utilizes NPS assistance.

o Overnight stay: One night within a park by a visitor (a party of two visitors staying over for three nights yields six overnight stays). Overnight stays by inholders will not be recorded, as they are not on parkland.

The seven categories of overnight stays are described below:

     o Concessioner lodging: Persons staying overnight in concessioner operated lodges, cabins, motels, and hotels (including youth or elder hostels).

     o Concessioner campground: Persons staying overnight in concessioner operated trailer courts, recreational vehicle parks, and tent campgrounds.

     o Tent: Campers in sleeping bags or soft-sided tents attached to a vehicle or erected in a NPS operated campground.

     o Recreational vehicle: Campers in recreational vehicles including tent trailers at NPS operated campground.

     o Backcountry: Campers in sleeping bags or soft-sided tents erected at undeveloped walk-in campsites not accessible by road.

     o Miscellaneous: Campers in group camping areas, on boats, in undeveloped overflow areas, or in other areas not otherwise described above (except inholders).

     o Nonrecreation: Overnight stays associated with nonrecreation visits (e.g., nights on board commercial fishing vessels off shore but within boundaries of NPS areas, or researchers on non-legislated NPS business).

o Visit: The entry of any person onto lands or waters administered by the NPS. A visitor is an individual who may generate one or more visits. The three categories of visits (recreation visit, non-recreation visit and non-reportable visit) are described in depth below.

     o Recreation visits: Entries of persons onto lands or waters administered by the NPS, except non-recreation and nonreportable visits.

     o Non-recreation visits include the following:

          o Commuter and other through traffic.

          o Persons going to and from inholdings across significant parts of parkland, including subsistence users.

          o Trades-people with business in the park.

          o Any civilian activity as a part of or incidental to the pursuit of a gainful occupation.

          o Government personnel (other than NPS employees) with business in the park.

          o Citizens using NPS buildings for civic or local government business, or attending public hearings. And

          o Research activities independent of the legislated interests of the NPS and conducted on behalf of the NPS.

     o Nonreportable visits include the following:

          o Brief incidental entries into a park by passing traffic (vehicular or pedestrian) using NPS administered grounds, roads, or walkways.

          o Employees of the NPS who are assigned to the park or are visiting the park in connection with their duty assignments.

          o NPS contractors, concessionaires, Cooperating Associations and their employees.

          o Temporary or permanent members in households of personnel otherwise included in this definition whose residence is within the park.

          o Private tenants within NPS boundaries (inholders) if not crossing significant NPS territory for access.

          o Any other persons whose presence in the park is to help the NPS fulfill its mission (e.g., Volunteers in the Parks, research activities associated with the NPS legislated mission, etc.). And

          o People engaged in illegal activity.

o Visitor day: Twelve visitor hours.

o Visitor hour: The presence of one or more persons in a park for continuous, intermittent, or simultaneous periods of time aggregating one hour (one person for one hour or two persons for one-half hour each).

IV.  Roles and Responsibilities

The responsibility for ensuring a reliable and accurate statistical reporting program lies with each park and the PUSO under the supervision of the Visiting Chief Social Scientist.

A.  Superintendents
Park superintendents and their staffs are responsible for collecting, compiling, and reporting monthly public use data by the 15th of each month for the previous monthly reporting period directly to the Public Use Statistics Office. The park, using the approved database management software, will enter the data electronically. The park will save all backup or supplementary information designed to document or assist in the collection of his or her data, e.g., separate district reports. This information should be retained for three years in order to assist examination during audits and to trace errors when they occur.

B.  Regional and Support Offices
Regional and Support offices are responsible for ensuring, if necessary, the timely submission of public use information by park areas in their jurisdiction.

C.  Associate Director for Natural Resource Stewardship and Science (ADNRSS)
The ADNRSS will appoint the Visiting Chief Social Scientist and provide oversight and guidance for the Social Science Program, including the Public Use Data Collecting and Reporting Program.

D.  Visiting Chief Social Scientist (VCSS)
The VCSS will report to the Associate Director for Natural Resource Stewardship and Science. The VCSS will:

o Provide leadership and direction to the social science activities of the NPS.

o Manage the NPS Social Science Program, which conducts and promotes state-of-the-art social science related to the mission of the National Park Service for the purpose of delivering usable knowledge to NPS managers and the public, including public use data collection and reporting.

o Act as a liaison with the USGS, the Department of the Interior, and other federal agencies on social science activities, including public use data collection and reporting.

o Perform other tasks as assigned by the ADNRSS. And,

o Advise the Director and National Leadership Council on social science issues, including those related to public use.

E.  Public Use Statistics Office (PUSO)
The PUSO is responsible for Service wide quality control of public use collecting and reporting. It has the authority to determine the need for change regarding public use reporting and to issue specific directions to accomplish the necessary tasks. Through the ADNRSS, the PUSO will identify inappropriate practices at specific park areas and may exclude from publication any park statistical information that is unacceptable (in terms of nonconformity with definitions) or unverifiable (in terms of failure to verify conversion factors). The PUSO is responsible for the development of counting instructions and data validity. It is also responsible for collecting and maintaining public use information and will publish the annual NPS Statistical Abstract.

The PUSO will provide and maintain the monthly reporting software and provide technical support to the park's staff on the software's proper use.

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