The Regional Review

Volume II - No. 2

February, 1939


By R. C. Robinson,
Regional Recreational Planner.

Parks are acquired and developed so that present and future generations may enjoy themselves in the out-of-doors. Facilities are provided so that people may engage in those activities which afford them the greatest satisfaction. The Utopian objective is to provide enough parks and enough facilities to make it possible for every man, woman and child to enjoy nature through an understanding and appreciative association with all of its manifestations.

On the other hand, this involves physical resources -- land, waters, topography, vegetation, wildlife; on the other, the recreational habits and interests of people. The one can be appraised by all five senses, measured, evaluated; the other is without substance. Yet in recreation planning, one must be balanced off against the other.

In order to do this, the answers to certain fundamental questions must be found. What kind of outdoor recreation do people want? What kind do they need? What habits govern their participation in activities?

With a view to obtaining pertinent information on these questions, the Service has been cooperating for the last two years with the several states in conducting studies of attendance and use at recreational areas scattered throughout the nation. In Region One, this survey has covered more than 100 state, metropolitan and county areas. Not only have data on attendance and use been recorded and analyzed, but a continuous effort has been made to obtain statements from typical park visitors of their recreational interests and the habits that govern their leisure time activities. To broaden the scope of the study to include those who never visit parks, surveys have been conducted in rural communities, towns, and cities, using the sampling method of research. And finally, the field observations of recreation specialists and leaders have been obtained as a further source of information.

While the results of these studies are by no means startling, they do serve to crystallize knowledge which has been accumulated through the experience and observations of recreation administrators and leaders. They reveal that the average man's recreational interests form a complex pattern in which one activity becomes enjoyable only because it makes possible still other activities; that what psychologists term the gregarious instinct constitutes a powerful motivating force in shaping his recreational preferences, causing him to seek principally those activities which afford companionship in abundance; and that, as in other human endeavors, organization and leadership are fundamental elements in most of his recreational activities.

park use chart
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The Park Use Chart opposite this page constitutes a tentative effort to present these findings graphically. It is by no means inclusive, since many desirable park activities, such as winter sports, have been omitted, but an attempt has been made to include the more typical of those activities which are believed to be in harmony with and require a natural environment for their best expression, or which contribute to the park visitor's enjoyment as complements of the principal motivating interests which bring him to an area.

The first important planning factor brought out by the chart involves the classification of visitors. Here, as in all aspects of park use, there is considerable overlapping. Individuals may come alone, or as members of an informal group. They use the general public-use facilities and participate in such activities as are available and suitable to their interests. Each individual depends upon his own initiative or upon the initiative of leaders, either professional or volunteer, for originating activities.

Those visitors who come as members of organizations frequently have a planned program of activities and desire facilities adaptable to organizational use. For example, to meet the organizational needs for picnicking, group areas providing capacities ranging from 25 to 30 to several hundred are needed, each such unit including, among other features, a reasonable amount of elbow room and privacy, an open play space for group activities, and a campfire circle for evening programs.

The general incentive which brings visitors to the park is the desire for an outing, Outings have been classified by major leisure-time periods, i.e., week-day, holiday, overnight, and vacation periods. The week-day visitor generally comes late in the afternoon and, if facilities adaptable for evening use are available, will often remain until well after dark. The campfire circle and recreation building are two facilities which make possible this evening use.

The holiday visitor has several hours at his disposal. Generally speaking, he either comes in the morning between 9 and 12, has his lunch on the area, remains until 5 to 6 o'clock, and goes home; or he comes in the afternoon between 1 and 4, has an evening lunch on the area and goes home at dusk or later. From the standpoint of planning, this means that facilities for holiday use should be adequate to handle at one time approximately half the anticipated number of visitors. The peak load generally comes between 4 and 5 o'clock, at which time the average ranges as high as 50 or 60 per cent of the total attendance for the day.

The overnight visitor comes on a Saturday afternoon to stay until Sunday afternoon, or he may come on the afternoon before a holiday, such as the Fourth of July, to remain overnight. He will participate in the same types of activities as the week-day and holiday visitor; consequently, his only additional requirement is for overnight accommodations, including facilities for preparing and serving meals. The vacation visitor comes for a stay ranging from several days to several weeks. Here, again, his activity interests will be met by the same facilities as those provided for week-day and holiday visitors; consequently, his only additional requirements are those of lodging and meal preparation and serving accommodations. Since he is spending a longer period of time at the area, he generally desires better accommodations than the overnight visitor in the way of cabin equipment for cooking, eating, sleeping and bathing.

views of recreationists
Top to bottom: Allegany State Park (N. Y.); Beach Pond Recreational Demonstration Area (R. I.); French Creek Recreational Demonstration Area (Pa.), and Shenandoah National Park (Va.).

Those activities which the visitor has primarily in mind in coming to an area are classified on the chart as motivating interests. It should be understood that there is a large overlapping of interests as between activities; that, for example, the swimmer may want to eat his lunch at the picnic area, play games on the playfield and hike along the nature trail in addition to swimming; while a family may come for a picnic, each member seeking other activities in accordance with his or her particular interests.

This overlapping of interests on the part of the park visitor has a definite influence on planning since it makes advisable the establishment, in design, of certain relationships between facilities. Those facilities necessary to accommodate the various activities are listed and should need no explanations. Natural resources and a knowledge of the recreational needs of the using public will determine which of the activities listed on the chart an area can and should offer. It should be borne in mind, however, that each activity will contribute something both to the popularity of an area and to the enjoyment of park visitors and that, for this reason, planning should include opportunities for as wide a diversity of interests as is practicable.

Water Recreation: Activities listed under this heading are those which depend directly or indirectly upon a body of water and are typical rather then exhaustive. It does not include activities listed under motivating interests but which are of ten incidental to water recreation, such, for example, as picnicking and cultural and educational activities.

Picnicking: Picnicking, like camping, is for the average park visitor a means to an end, that end being participation in a wide variety of activities. Among the activities closely associated with picnicking are those listed on the chart under this classification. In addition, all of those activities listed under other classifications, with the exception of camping may be considered as complements.

It is particularly important, from the standpoint of planning, to make swimming and picnicking possible as a joint activity, since it has been found through study and observation that a very large percentage of picnickers want to participate in water recreation. For this reason, it is desirable to locate picnicking facilities as close to the beach or swimming area as site conditions will permit. The requirements for the two principal types of picnicking, that is, informal and organized, should be kept foremost in mind. It is also particularly important to provide open spaces (playfields) and campfire circles in planning the layout of a picnicking area, since such facilities contribute materially to the enjoyment of outing visitors who come for a picnic.

Cultural and Educational: Those activities listed on the chart under this classification are by no means exhaustive. Many of man's recreational hobbies involve cultural or educational pursuits. A park may, for example, become an excellent place for the study of astronomy, for wildlife photography, for sketching, for painting, and for many other similar activities. Not only is nature education fundamental to an understanding of the purpose and need for conservation, but it provides the basis for a real enjoyment of the out-of-doors. Under qualified leadership it can also become a popular and absorbing activity. It therefore should be given emphasis in program planning.

Pioneer and wood crafts may be considered a part of a nature education program, since they involve those arts which man created during his centuries of hand-to-hand struggle with the neutral environment. For this reason the craft shop should be located near the museum so that it may be used inconjunction with the nature program.

Areas which have historical or archeological significance offer a wide variety of opportunities for stimulating visitors' interest in these two important subjects. Even where an area is lacking in either of these resources, interest can be created, through pageants and drama, in the folklore history of the general section of the state in which it is located. In all probability, the arts of music and drama originated around a campfire. Today, the average group, when gathered around a campfire circle, engages in song, story-telling and dramatic stunts. Music festivals and dramatic pageants in open air theaters have long been popular and may be considered legitimate activities on areas which can provide the facilities and necessary directional leadership and which are conveniently located in relationship to population.

Camping: Camping has been defined as the art of living within the limitations of an outdoor and primitive environment. There are many modes of camping and types of camping facilities raging from cabins de luxe with hot showers, electric stoves and other civilized gadgets, to primitive sites on which the camper builds his campfire, cooks his meal and spreads his pallet under the sky. For planning purposes, however, these modes and types of camping have been arbitrarily grouped under the classifications listed on the Chart. Briefly, these classifications may be explained as follows:

Vacation camping has reference to that type of camping done in individual family cabins, on camp grounds and in trailer camps, and involves a period of several days or more. Organized camping has been used to designate that type of camping conducted for a group of people by an institution, operated under certain routine discipline, which seeks to carry out definite aims through the supervision of trained leaders. In formal group camping is used to designate that type of camping conducted for a group of people, predominantly adult, operated with a minimum restriction of routine discipline, in which the program arises out of the recreational interests and initiation of the campers themselves under the stimulation and guidance of a properly trained administrative staff.

Pioneer camping has been used to designate that type of camping in which the learning of camping techniques in a designated, undeveloped (except for potable water and pit toilets) site by an organized group constitutes the primary objective. Primitive camping has been used to designate that type of camping which has as its primary objective the application of campcraft techniques in a natural environment by individuals or small groups furnishing and carrying their own equipment "back in" off the beaten path. Day camping has been used to designate that type of camping which involves the spending of a day in the out-of-doors by an organized group which carries out a camping program under supervision.

Special Events: Special events have both a participant and spectator value. They afford an additional value as a means of focusing public attention on various recreational activities, thereby stimulating a wider interest in these activities.

Miscellaneous: Listed under this classification are a number of activities which have been found to be incentives which bring visitors to a park or recreational area.

Enjoyment of scenery has a particularly strong appeal on areas which offer unusual natural features or exceptional beauty. Judging from park use studies, a large number of people come to recreational areas with no other objective in mind than that of relaxing, since they participate in no other activity. They provide the spectators found around swimming areas and other feature points. Archery has a number of followers who make trips to outlying areas for the sole purpose of using the archery range. The same is true of horseback riding and hiking. Studies on areas which have scenic drives reveal that many people come solely to use them as motorways.

[Editor's Note: The above article introduces in a general way a series of recreational studies which will appear in future issues of The Review].

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Date: 04-Jul-2002