Skip to main content

Why does the social carrying capacity of public lands change across space and time?

What is an acceptable level of change to the visitor’s experience and to the resource the visitor impacts?

Why do indicators of visitor and resource quality stay the same and standards vary within a protected area and across protected areas?


Balancing visitor use and resource protection in parks and protected areas is an ongoing challenge which demands that research address both the social and biophysical factors that impact resource capacity. Effective management depends on research that results in development of monitoring tools and protocols that address these factors. Researchers in PRTM are actively engaged in providing these tools. Our research is leading not only to new ways of monitoring for quality visitor experiences and resource conditions but also to better ways of implementing outdoor recreation policies designed to protect and conserve the ecological and social benefits of these lands

The envisioned outcome

Natural areas that not only provide for the aesthetic and recreational enjoyment of people but also retain the ecological functions and services that ensure a sustainable future for all of us.

Featured Project: Developing Visitor Impact Monitoring Protocols for Yosemite National Park

Their Mission?informal_trailing_in_park-websmall

Yosemite National Park in California is one of the National Parks System’s most popular destinations. With visitor popularity comes significant resource impact. This project developed and evaluated protocols park management can use for monitoring, analyzing, and reporting resource impact indicators associated with visitor use. Major indicators tested include the extent and proliferation of informal trails, conditions of formal trails, wildlife exposure to human food, and riverbank conditions.

Why does this matter?

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service with a mandate to manage our public lands to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Monitoring resource impact is an essential component of the Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP) Framework that is being implemented at Yosemite to address user capacity and impact issues. The work at Yosemite is serving as a model for other U.S. national parks and international protected areas – so we can enjoy these treasures today and still preserve them for future generations.

Learn more about our National Parks

Learn more about Recreation Impacts on Public Lands

Learn more about International Recreational Ecology Research Network (RERN)

Examples of Recent Publications from PRTM in the area of Recreation Ecology and Visitor Impact Management

(*denotes current or former NCSU student)


Leung, Y.-F., & Catts, G. (2013). The joy of bioresources: Sustainable forest-recreation connections (invited editorial). BioResources, 8(1), 1-2.

Leung, Y.-F., *Walden-Schreiner, C., *Matisoff, C., *Naber, M., & *Robinson, J. (2013). A two-pronged approach to evaluating the environmental sustainability of disc golf as emerging recreation in urban natural areas. Managing Leisure. In press.

*Serenari, C., & Leung, Y.-F. (forthcoming). Going global: Rethinking the cross-cultural transfer of minimal impact education programs in non-Western protected areas. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration.

*Walden-Schreiner, C., & Leung, Y.-F. (2013). Spatially characterizing visitor use and its association with informal trails in Yosemite Valley meadows. Environmental Management. Published online May 21, 2013.


Leung, Y.-F. (2012). Recreation ecology research in East Asia’s protected areas: Redefining impacts? Journal for Nature Conservation, 20(6), 349-356.

*Miller, A., Leung, Y.-F., & Lu, D.-J. (2012). Community-based monitoring of tourism resources as a tool for supporting the Convention on Biological Diversity targets: A preliminary global assessment. PARKS: International Journal of Protected Areas and Conservation 18(2): 120-131.

Moore, R., Leung, Y.-F., *Matisoff, C., *Dorwart, C., & *Parker, A. (2012). Understanding users’ perceptions of trail resource impacts and how they affect experiences: An integrated approach. Landscape and Urban Planning, 107, 343-350.

Newsome, D., Dowling, R., & Leung, Y.-F. (2012). The nature and management of geotourism: The case of two established iconic geotourism destinations in Australia and Taiwan. Tourism Management Perspectives, 2-3, 19-27.

*Serenari, C., Leung, Y.-F., Attarian, A., & Franck, C. (2012). Understanding environmentally significant behavior among whitewater rafting and trekking guides in the Garhwal Himalaya, India. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 20(5). 757-772.

*Walden-Schreiner, C., Leung, Y.-F., Newburger, T., & Woiderski, B. (2012). Developing an accessible methodology for monitoring visitor use patterns in open landscapes at Yosemite National Park. Park Science, 29(1), 63-71.


Leung, Y.-F., Newburger, T., Jones, M., Kuhn, B., & Woideski, B. (2011). Developing a monitoring protocol for visitor-created informal trails in Yosemite National Park, USA. Environmental Management, 47(1), 93-106.

Lu, D.-J., Leung, Y.-F., & Hsieh, H.-T. (2011). Research to support the establishment of a community-based monitoring program for Shih-Pan Trail in Lin-Mei Village, Taiwan ROC (in Chinese). Quarterly Journal of Chinese Forestry, 44(2), 265-284.

Marion, J.L., & Leung, Y.-F. (2011). Indicators and protocols for monitoring impacts of formal and informal trails in protected areas. Journal of Tourism and Leisure Studies, 17(2), 215-236.


Hsu, Y.-C., Leung, Y.-F., Li, Y.-H., Wang, C.-P., & Lue, C.-C. (eds. and trans.) (2010). An Assessment of Frameworks Useful for Public Land Recreation Planning (in Chinese). Taipei, Taiwan ROC: Hua Li Publishing, 352p.

Monz, C., Cole, D.N., Leung, Y.-F., & Marion, J.L. (2010). Sustaining visitor use in protected areas: Future opportunities in recreation ecology research. Environmental Management, 45(3), 551-562.

Pickering, C.P., Hill, W., Newsome, D., & Leung, Y.-F. (2010) Comparing hiking, mountain biking and horse riding impacts on vegetation and soils in Australia and the U.S.A. Journal of Environmental Management, 91(3), 551-562.

Siderelis, C., Naber, M., & Leung, Y.-F. (2010). The influence of site design and resource conditions on outdoor recreation demand: A mountain biking case study. Journal of Leisure Research, 42(4), 573-590.