140 people gathered in Toronto for a high profile event on visitor management. Thanks to OMNR’s Will Wistowsky and Adam Gryck, we had a spellbinding group of international speakers!
Stephen Murphy – Chair of CASIOPA and Professor & Chair of the Department of Environment and Resource Studies (ERS), University of Waterloo – opened a snowy day that was rife with traffic chaos to a nearly-full house – that shows the resilience of Canadians who braved traffic hell to reach us; of course many of us saw the forecast and even those near Toronto came to the meeting site the night before and stayed in the hotel. As usual, there was a great chance for networking the night before and on days 1 and 2.
The calm before the storm - well, it was already snowing hard outside
We had a great start with Building for the future in Canadian national parks. Brenda Jones – Chief Social Scientist, External Relations and Visitor Experience Directorate, Parks Canada – showed us how sophisticated visitor management has become, especially with shifting demographics (age and cultural background) and the need to better use social media.
Next up was a presentation on Ontario Parks – Visitor Management Current Trends and Opportunities (Bruce Vanstaalduinen – Manager, Operations and Development, Ontario Parks, MNR; Will Wistowsky – Socio-Economic Analyst, Parks and Protected Policy Section, MNR; Adam Gryck – Protected Area Research Analyst, Parks and Protected Policy Section, MNR). The three wise people talked up how Ontario Parks was approaching the same issues as Parks Canada. A lively discussion followed wherein Ontario Parks chief Bradley Fauteux noted that they needed to do more on social media – and if you check Bradley’s twitter postings today in 2015 and those of the official feeds of Ontario Parks and OMNRF, you will see they really followed through on that!
After a break, we launched into Defining, Measuring, and Managing the Visitor Capacity of Parks. We were fortunate to have one of the most important voices in visitor management – Robert Manning (Professor, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources Director, Park Studies Laboratory University of Vermont). He has written the book (well, several THE books) on the subject and took us through the origins of research in visitor management through his most recent efforts.
Measuring and Modeling Visitor Use of Parks was the subject from renowned expert Steve Lawson (Director, Public Lands Resource Systems Group, Inc.). Steve brought a great technical perspective as a former academic and current private sector leader in park informatics.
As a person in a Department that focuses on this very transdisciplinary approach, your scribe here (Murphy) was pleased that we had a talk on Understanding recreation as a coupled social-ecological system. And it was delivered by the eminent Len Hunt (in his auspices as Research Scientist, Human Dimensions of Resource Management, Science and Information Resources Division, MNR). Len really explicated how we can study such complex and coupled systems.
Understanding Recreational Impacts and Visitor Capacity was delivered by one of the best experiential educators and researchers in the world – Jeffery Marion (Field Station Leader, Adj. Prof., Natural Resource Recreation, Virginia Tech University; see also here). Jeffrey took on a lot of what was said earlier in a more academic or technical context and showed us how that works on the ground. Check out this reference for a gist of Jeffrey’s talk: Marion, Jeffrey L., Jeremy F. Wimpey, & Logan O. Park. 2011. The science of trail surveys: Recreation ecology provides new tools for managing wilderness trails. Park Science 28(3): 60-65.
Day 1 ended with all of us moving off to a couple of restaurants for food and libation, amidst piles of snow.
Day 2 started at 0500 with us shovelling the hotel driveway because Will forgot to pay the hotel deposit. Just kidding. We started at a more civilized hour with a discussion of everyone’s double edged sword – budget!. We discussed the Economic Perspectives of Visitor Use Management as laid out by one of the best in the business – Kim Rollins (Associate Professor Department of Economics University of Nevada, Reno).
For our final formal presentation, we focused on the Potentials and Pitfalls of Rapid Visitor Assessments. Bob Payne (Professor School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks & Tourism Lakehead University) delivered a cold dose of reality – apropos for 1 February – if we were too cavalier in our methods but did show us how we could do visitor assessments with alacrity.
From there, we had Panel Discussions for the latter half of the day, with much audience participation on three topics:
- Tools for Understanding Current Park Visitor Use
- Tools for Understanding Future Park Visitor Use
- Tools for Managing Recreational Impacts to Park Resources
Wrapping up, we sent everyone out into a much nicer weather environment and Adam, Will, and Steve parked themselves into sleep that night and visited dreamland, exhausted but pleased with two days an excellent meeting.