UM Tourism, Recreation Institute Lands National Park Service Contract

May 15, 2020

Tourists in Yellowstone National Park make way for the park’s furry residents. (Photo courtesy Norma Nickerson). MISSOULA – The University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research will once more work on improving national parks as a collaborator on a $40 million contract from the U.S. National Park Service.

ITRR, part of UM’s College of Forestry and Conservation, will study visitor use and social issues for the nationwide research projects conducted to assist with park service planning and management. Two other research companies, Otak of Redmond, Washington, and RRC Associates of Boulder, Colorado, also are involved on the five-year N.P.S. contract.    

Since 1988, UM’s ITRR has conducted tourism and recreation research within the state and region.

“This contract is an opportunity to assist our nation’s park service with a variety of issues, from evaluating and improving the visitor experience to congestion and transportation to internal staffing and management,” said Jeremy Sage, ITRR associate director. “We are excited to work with Otak, RRC, and the rest of our stellar team on new and creative research methods and analysis.”

Yellowstone National Park (Norma Nickerson). The trio of research companies, with Otak as the main contractor and RRC and ITRR as subcontractors, previously worked together on a large visitor study on crowding in Yellowstone National Park.

“Our unique approach in Yellowstone of handing out tablets with location-specific surveys that would later pop up on the tablet caught the attention of the park service in our proposal,” said Norma Nickerson, ITRR director. “We had the ability to ask in-the-moment questions about crowding and satisfaction to visitors and upload the data nightly for immediate consumption by Yellowstone administrators.”

Through the new park service contract, Otak, RRC and the ITRR will provide more creative approaches to informing park managers on social and natural resources issues. Some projects and goals include:

  1. Understanding in-park visitor use so land managers can make better decisions on visitor experiences and resources protection.
  2. Investigating personnel and partner studies of internal agency and department issues.
  3. Assessing regional economic impact and economic welfare studies that include cost/benefit and regulatory flexibility analyses, willingness to pay and visitor spending profile estimates.
  4. Studying recreation, transportation and carrying capacity issues, including visitor movement, travel pattern studies, visitor use level estimation and evaluations of conditions with changes over time and under various use levels.
  5. Conducting non-visitor studies to look at visitor displacement and increase awareness of gateway communities and regional stakeholders, as well as studying potential visitors to assist in future management decisions.

Glacier National Park (Nickerson). Academic partners at UM’s College of Business, Department of Mathematics and the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation also will contribute research to the five-year contract. Other team members around the country include researchers from Utah State University, Oregon State University, University of Colorado, Kansas State University, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Maine and Virginia Polytechnic University.

Collaborative business partners nationwide include: Bioeconomics and Global Parks Solutions both from Missoula; NatureWerks, LLC, from Minneapolis; Agnew Beck Consulting from Anchorage, Alaska; EPS from Oakland, California; Fehr & Peers from offices throughout the U.S.; New Line Consulting from Gallatin Gateway, Montana; Evermost from Kirkland, Washington; Industrial Economics from Cambridge, Massachusetts; Kirk Value Planners from Goodyear, Arizona; OmniTrak Group from Honolulu; NeoTreks from Castle Rock, Colorado; and L2 Data Collection from Boise, Idaho, and Salt Lake City.

“The park service is excited to work with this extensive team of subject-matter experts to inform the variety of socioeconomic and natural resource data and analytic needs for our parks and programs,” said Bret Meldrum, park service social science program chief. “This contract will significantly contribute to data-driven decision-making across the bureau.”

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Contact: Jeremy Sage, associate director, UM Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, 406-243-5552, jeremy.sage@umontana.edu; Norma Nickerson, director, ITRR, 406-243-2328, norma.nickerson@umontana.edu.