Micro-Level Site Displacement in Yosemite Wilderness: A Novel Application of GPS and Infrared Sensor Data to Explore Relationships between Use Density and Visitor Movement at Attraction Sites

Susan Irizarry, Natural Resources

First Place: Graduate Interdisciplinary Research Presentation

Abstract: Federally designated wildernesses must be managed to provide opportunities for solitude, but increased day use in wilderness has resulted in crowding due to high densities of users in some areas. Crowding can negatively impact visitor experience when the level of use exceeds visitor expectations. When experience expectations are not met, visitors use both cognitive and behavioral coping mechanisms to respond. Micro-level site displacement is a behavioral coping mechanism that occurs when a visitor responds to undesirable conditions such as crowding by altering his or her physical use of a location to avoid negative conditions.

Previously, micro-level site displacement has been studied indirectly using survey questionnaires or directly using researcher observation. This study sought to determine whether using two types of sensor data, personal GPS units carried by visitors and infrared trail counters, could be used to document the occurrence of micro-level site displacement at three popular wilderness attraction sites in Yosemite Wilderness. It also sought to compare self reports (n=59) of crowding to actual movement. Ripley’s K analyses and nearest neighbor hierarchical clustering analyses were used to determine differences in cluster patterns between point feature classes at high, moderate, and low use levels. Micro-level site displacement was documented from the geospatial data. However, no differences were found between groups at different use levels in survey data related to the impacts of crowding on experience quality. These findings contribute new methods for studying micro-level site displacement and add to the discussion on the effectiveness of using visitor surveys in recreation-related research.