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The researchers of PARC are involved in numerous research projects that are aimed at improving environmental and human health conditions around the world. They range from understanding urban parks and green spaces to working to reduce the human impact on natural areas in some of the most rugged areas on earth.

Advancing Understanding of Soundscape Research in Parks

With the assistance of the Penn State Social Science Research Institute, the Park Studies Unit has started an "Environmental Acoustics Work Group" to apply disciplinary knowledge of acoustics to improve understanding of soundscapes in parks using a collaborative, interdisciplinary , systemic approach. In April 2014, the group hosted an acoustics-focused symposium and keynote presentation featuring Dr. Kurt Fristrup, branch chief of science and technology for the National Park Service Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division.

Año Nuevo State Park: Ecotourism as a Context for Informal Science Education

In the pilot study at California’s Año Nuevo State park we assessed the impact of a nature-based park visit and how subsequent pro-environmental behavior can be further stimulated by persuasive technologies. Guided tours of the sea elephant colony at Año Nuevo State Park provided an excellent local opportunity to field test our research design and instruments prior to our full research project on visitors to the Galapagos Islands.

Bandelier National Monument Soundscape Management

During summer 2013, researchers conducted visitor surveys in several locations in Bandelier, to inform soundscape management and planning at the monument. The project is nearing completion and the management report and related publications will be available soon.

Denali National Park and Preserve Soundscape Management

Beginning in 2011, and concluding in the summer of 2013, unit researchers conducted visitor surveys at Denali to inform backcountry management of the park and preserves soundscape. Explore our preliminary findings fact sheet.

Do Park Investments Make a Difference?

An evaluation of park renovations at Allentown’s Cedar CreekParkway; Funding Support – Pennsylvania Recreation and Parks Society.

Grand Teton National Park Moose Wilson Corridor Visitor Use

Beginning summer 2014, the Park Studies Unit will collaborate with researchers at Utah State University to conduct visitor use surveys within the Moose Wilson Corridor of Grand Teton National Park.

Leave No Trace Research in Wyoming State Parks

Leave No Trace (established through the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics) is, perhaps, the most prevalent minimum-impact visitor education program in use in parks and protected areas in the U.S. The intent of the program is to educate recreationists about the nature of their impacts with the goal of resource protection. The Park Studies Unit believes that Leave No Trace can curb the resource and social degradation, caused by visitor use in parks and protected areas, by altering visitor behaviors through indirect management.

During the summer of 2012, Park Studies Unit researchers conducted Leave No Trace research in three different park units managed by Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails. The research units included: Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyoming Territorial Prison, and Glendo State Park. The project is nearing completion, and the management report and related publications will be available soon.

Nicaragua: Livelihoods, Quality of Life, and the Inter-Oceanic Canal

In 2013 the Nicaraguan government signed an agreement with the Hong Kong-based firm HKND to construct a new inter-oceanic canal in the Western hemisphere large enough to accommodate post-PANAMAX class cargo tankers. The canal will bisect the largest neotropical rainforest outside of the Amazon, impact parts of Central America’s most endangered ecosystem (dry tropical forest), require dredging the world’s fifth largest freshwater water body (Lake Colcibolca), and directly impact vulnerable rural populations. A recent Nature commentary co-authored by the president of the Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences (ACN) confirms the canal is an impending socio-environmental disaster (Meyer & Huete-Perez 2014). HKND is tentatively scheduled to break ground on the canal as early as the end of 2014.

There is a proposal for new research that will establish a socio-environmental baseline critical to tracking impacts of the canal over time.

Role of Natural Sounds on Stress Restoration

The Park Studies Unit is currently collaborating with Penn State researchers in biobehavioral health and psychology, as well as the National Park Service National Sounds and Night Skies Division to improve understanding regarding how natural sounds may foster stress reduction and increase restoration. These studies are laboratory-based, and evaluating both psychological and physiological dimensions of health and well being.

Wilderness Character Monitoring in Rocky Mountain National Park

In March 2009, Rocky Mountain National Park officially received designation as wilderness. Park of the Wilderness Act mandate is to preserve "wilderness character", an attribute often difficult for managers to quantify. To aid managers with carrying out this mandate, a wilderness character monitoring program is being developed in conjunction with Penn State. The goal of this project is to develop an expanded spatial based platform for evaluating wilderness character beyond previous methods proposed. The analysis and modeling capabilities of a spatial based platform will allow characteristics to be evaluated for current conditions, as well as provide a medium for testing impacts of various management options by the park to those characteristics. A secondary goal is to develop a flexible model capable of accepting a range of datasets. Such a platform will provide a basis by which various agencies can adapt the model to utilize datasets already available to them.

Other Research Projects - Completed, In Progress, or Planned

  • Public Perceptions regarding Corporate Sponsorship of Fairfax County Park Authority (Mowen)
  • An Assessment of Park Capital Upgrades at LARA Park: What do Visitors Think? (Mowen)
  • National Visitor Use Monitoring for the U.S.D.A. Forest Service (Graefe)
  • Outdoor Recreation and Older Americans (Graefe)
  • Visitor Use Monitoring for the Allegheny National Forest (Graefe)
  • Recreation Monitoring and Evaluation on Region 6 (Oregon/Washington) National Forests (Graefe)
  • Analysis of Recreation Fee Issues in Outdoor Recreation (Graefe)
  • Evaluation of the Concessions Program for Pennsylvania State Parks (Mowen, Kerstetter, & Graefe)