Date of Award

August 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management

Committee Member

Jeffrey C Hallo

Committee Member

Kenneth F Backman

Committee Member

Lincoln R Larson

Committee Member

J Adam Beeco

Committee Member

Matthew T.J Brownlee


Recreational boating is a popular activity on public waterways. Boaters enjoy a multitude of natural lakes and rivers, but these waterways are a limited natural resource. In some cases, crowding caused by high rates of boating participation has strained the capacity of this natural resource base, generating conflict between participants and environmental impacts. Therefore, waterway managers may develop regulations for the number or types of boats allowed at one time. This is often referred to as visitor capacity.

With many waterways in the U.S. located in protected areas (PAs), their management are guided by legal regulations or statutory frameworks such as the Wilderness Act (1964) and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968). Therefore, waterway managers need to develop and implement comprehensive visitor use strategies that cover various visitor types and address a wide range of possible impacts on resources and visitor experiences.

In defining the quality of boating experiences, consideration is given to the safety and enjoyment of boaters. To better understand acceptable boating conditions, waterway managers need to investigate 1) the maximum amounts and types of boating use that an area can accommodate while achieving and maintaining the desired conditions and experiences (i.e., boating thresholds), and 2) how boaters respond to various weather and climatic conditions.

This dissertation represents a substantial contribution to the outdoor recreation field because past studies about the on-site experiences of recreational boaters in public waterways are often dated or underexplored. Specifically, the influence of weather on recreation-particularly water-based recreation-is often assumed rather than demonstrated. Boaters are often exposed to the elements of weather with minimal protection, therefore it is important to understand how weather influences boating use levels. Additionally, weather and climate research has mainly focused on tourism while paying little attention to recreation. With regards to boating thresholds, they are in some cases from sources that may be out of date, with some being more than 20 years old. These thresholds are still being used by agencies to manage boating. Also, by simulating current and projected recreational boat use levels, waterways managers may begin to better understand boaters’ patterns of use and how they intersect with empirically-based thresholds for boating.

In the dissertation two distinct sites (i.e., reservoirs from a hydro-power project, and a wild and scenic river system) were selected. A quantitative approach was applied in this study. Surveys, field cameras and Global Positioning System devices were used to collect data. The study findings update and provide context-specific standards for boating density based on boaters’ perceptions. Additionally, the findings can help waterway agencies better manage short-term boater demand because of changes in weather, and adapt to long-term climate changes in visitor use patterns. The findings may also help managing agencies identify areas that experiential capacities are being exceeded, and the points in time when these violations take place. Therefore, these findings may inform the development of visitor use management plans.



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