Public Land Conundrum: Part II

Over the past century, many changes have occurred regarding the use and access of public lands and natural resources for recreational purposes.

A shift in thinking towards conservation and preservation – instead of unregulated exploitation of natural resources – was all-at-once a great American accomplishment, but also set the stage for current-day conflicts of recreation and its associated impacts (Meine & Knight, 1999).

Early on, we can see that issues concerning land managers mainly consisted of extractive uses; however, this has largely changed to issues regarding recreational impacts and use.

Multiple Use Public Lands
A cow grazes in the distance, behind a camp site. Multiple land-use issues from across different industries continue to plague public land managers and management agencies.

As Aldo Leopold stated, “very evidently we have here the old conflict between preservation and use, long since an issue with respect to timber, water power, and other purely economic resources, but just now coming to be an issue with respect to recreation” (Meine & Knight, 1999, p. 33). Furthermore, issues regarding leisure and recreation opportunities (pertaining to public lands) were seen surfacing in the 1930s in not only America, but in the rest of the developing world as well – as more people experienced increased mobility and increased disposable incomes (Pigram & Jenkins, 2003).

As Aldo Leopold acknowledged, “he saw outdoor recreation not as the exclusive privilege of the wealthy, but as a basic human need and an inherent desire shared by most people” (Meine & Knight, 1999, p.32).

As Rolston III (1991, p. 393) points out, “though some persons work outside, the only time that most of us spend with the sky over our head or the ground under our feet is when we are at leisure”. However, as noted by Pigram and Jenkins (2003, p.23), “the question –‘what makes tourists travel?’- is no more or less difficult to answer than any other aspect of recreational behavior, or of consumer behavior generally”.

Backpacking Trip atop the Desert Ridge
Another backpacking campsite along the arduous trek through the Utah winter desert. The frequency of visitation to National Parks during winter months is low, resulting in more freedom to explore and enjoy the desert solitude, with less crowds.

This question is especially complicated and difficult to answer when viewing the issue of leisure and recreation across the globe and through different cultures. North American styles of leisure and recreation, as well as other developed nations, exhibit qualities such as individual freedom, mobility and often include tons of material goods (Godbey & Jung, 1991).

It can be seen from Godbey and Jung (1991, p.44) that, “modern nations, because they serve increasingly as a model of leisure use for developing ones [countries] whom they are increasingly visible, will have no choice but to modify their own styles of life if they expect developing nations to follow”.

This speaks to the concern held by Aldo Leopold, when he stated, “recreational use seemed increasingly to defeat its own purpose” and that “the excitement, adventure, and mystery of being outdoors seeking something was being turned into just the latest in a long line of exploitative American industries, “a self-destructive process of seeking but never quite finding, a major frustration of mechanized society”” (Meine & Knight, 1999, p.33-34).

As more and more people continue to participate in outdoor recreation, more and more issues will arise from recreation and its associated impacts to public lands. As a result, public land managers and tourism managers must have an understanding of the experiences, motivations, and desired benefits tourists have in order to properly address these issues.

State Wildlife Area & Grazing Plot
Combining recreation and agriculture. This location hosts numerous hunters throughout the fall and winter months, while allowing grazing and crop production in the sprig and summer.

When bringing in a study conducted by Ross (1997) entitled ‘Backpacker Achievement and Environmental Controllability as Visitor Motivators’, we begin to see such attempts take place. Gaining information about experiences, motivations, and benefits regarding outdoor recreation provide managers with vital knowledge in which to base management decisions. In this study, the author looked at 273 backpackers/budget travelers.

Ross (1997) found that the average age of these backpacker travelers was around 30; there were somewhat more males than females; and that relaxation was the bigger priority (versus educational priorities) in terms of benefits from vacations.

In terms of motivations, it appears from this study that major motivations include, “a strong need to visit environments that were safe, not entirely unfamiliar to those which they came, and were such as not to impose major risks to their health or safety” (Ross, 1997, p. 79).

Additionally, this study found that many backpacker travelers to the World Heritage Region of Northern Australia “place a high value on vacations in their life and report that they take them for relaxation purposes.

Thus, vacations are seen as being of more importance and perhaps therefore more likely to be taken by people who are higher in this “need” and can be seen as “a symbol of achievement” (Ross, 1997, p. 81).

Furthermore, it was noted by Ross (1997, p.81), that “it has been found that the achievement need is predictive of vacation preference variables as well as socio-demographic measures”. As Ross elaborates, “people with high achievement needs like situations in which they can take personal responsibility for finding solutions. They prefer activities that allow self-evaluation and respond positively to feedback concerning their own competence” (1997, p. 71).

Pheasant Hunting Season
Pheasants standing in stubble as they wearily examine the landscape. In the fall, thousands of hunters descend to agricultural areas for their hunting ‘vacations’.

All in all, understanding the experiences being offered on public lands; the motivations behind outdoor recreation and leisure tourism; and the desired benefits tourists’ and recreationists’ are seeking is vital for public land managers and tourism managers alike.

In addition to McCleland’s Needs theory of motivation (underpinning Ross’s paper (1997)), the Recreation Experience Preference (REP) is another tool that helps managers determine patterns of behavior of recreationists (Driver, Tinsley, and Manfredo, 1991). In addition, it can be seen that with increasing mobility and higher disposable incomes, developed as well as developing countries will have to continue to battle between preservation and use.

As Aldo Leopold famously stated:

No man is wise enough to say at just what point the loss in quality of recreation outweighs the gain in quantity, but any man with half an eye can see on which side of the scale official leadership should throw its weight. The parkward hegira of the landless needs no prodding; whether we will or no it is upon us, like an army with banners. From now on it is quality, not quantity, which needs the attention of far-seeing administrators (Meine & Knight, 1999, p.42).


Driver, B.L., Tinsley, H.E.A., & Manfredo, M.J. (1991). The Paragraphs about Leisure and Recreation Experience Preference Scales: Results from Two Inventories Designed to Assess the Breadth of the Perceived Psychological Benefits of Leisure. Benefits of Leisure.

Godbey, G.C., & Jung, B. (1991). Relations Between the Development of Culture and Philosophies of Leisure. Benefits of Leisure.

Pigram, J. & Jenkins, J. (2003). Encyclopedia of leisure and outdoor recreation. Routledge. New York. Introduction (1-21).

Pigram, J. & Jenkins, J. (2003). Encyclopedia of leisure and outdoor recreation. Routledge. New York. Chapter 2: Motivation, choice and behavior (22-51).

Pigram, J. & Jenkins, J. (2003). Encyclopedia of leisure and outdoor recreation. Routledge. New York. Chapter 4: Outdoor recreation resources. (76-111).

Meine, C., & Knight, R. L. (Eds.). (1999). The essential Aldo Leopold: quotations and commentaries. Univ of Wisconsin Press. Chapter 3: Outdoor recreation (32-44).

Rolston III, H. (1991). Creation and recreation: Environmental benefits and human leisure (393-403).

Ross, G. F. (1997). Backpacker achievement and environmental controllability as visitor motivators. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 6(2), 69-82.

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