National Park Service

Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network (NCBN)

Visitor Use Impact Monitoring

White-tailed deer at Fire Island National Seashore
White-tailed deer at Fire Island National Seashore

NPS Coastal Visitor Impact Monitoring Phase I Report, March 2003
Principal Investigators: Christopher Monz, Ph.D., St. Lawrence University and Yu-Fai Leung, Ph.D., North Carolina State University

NPS Coastal Visitor Impact Monitoring Phase II Report, October 2003
Principal Investigators: Christopher Monz, Ph.D., St. Lawrence University and Yu-Fai Leung, Ph.D., North Carolina State University

For more information contact: Dennis Skidds or
Sara Stevens

Importance / Issues

Based on site visits and manager interviews, visitor impacts were found to be a significant threat and management concern at the majority of NCBN parks. Major network-wide impact commonalities include trampling vegetation and soils, wildlife disturbance, impacts related to off-road vehicle use, and trash.

High visitation within NCBN parks creates the potential for significant and widespread impacts to natural resources and processes. As recreation is a legitimate use of parks, the issue for managers is at what level do resource impacts become unacceptable based on other park management mandates and objectives.

Recreation activities can cause impact to all resource elements in an ecosystem. Because various ecological components are interrelated, recreation impact on a single ecological element can eventually result in effects on multiple components.

Parks Monitored

  • Assateague National Seashore (ASIS)
  • Cape Cod National Seashore (CACO)
  • Colonial National Historic Park (COLO)
  • Fire Island National Seashore (FIIS)
  • Gateway National Recreation Area (GATE)
  • George Washington Birthplace National Monument (GEWA)
  • Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (SAGU)
  • Thomas Stone National Historic Site (SAGU)

Preliminary Monitoring Objectives

  • Determine both the seasonal and long-term trends in the distribution and abundance of visitors and associated activity types in NCBN parks.
  • Determine what are the management areas of critical concern where current or potential visitor activities threaten resource quality and compromise resource protection objectives.
  • In areas of critical concern, determine what is the type and extent of visitor impacts to soil, vegetation and wildlife resources and how are these impacts changing over time.


Visitor use monitoring methods have not yet been determined by the Network. Following a workshop held by the Network in 2005, participants concurred that a stratified, random sampling design would be the most appropriate. The sampling could be stratified to include sampling within each park's major habitat types and use areas, including both official and unofficial recreation sites. These samples will then be used to estimate park uses within all habitat types and use areas, as well as trends in these variables over time.

Park use data (activity type, distribution, and density) will most likely be collected by direct counts and mapping in the field. Behavior observation, a social science technique, can also be used to measure visitor use and associate activities. In visitor observation, human behaviors that cause impacts are systematically observed. Of the techniques available, behavior observation holds the greatest promise. Methods will be further researched and developed by the Network as part of further protocol development.

Methods for monitoring visitor impacts to park natural resources have not yet been determined for the Network. Some methods have been presented in a report to Cape Cod National Seashore managers that include using aerial photographs to monitor the extent and distribution of social trails (Marion and Cahill 2003). Trails are identified and further classified based on their condition. Other methods described include using GPS to map park trails and field methods for classifying soil and vegetation disturbance.

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