by Sam Demas, July 2017
I seek advice! How do we best advance research to assess the environmental impact of huts in comparison with other forms of overnight visitations in the front and back country? This is the research gap we need to fill to help determine what, if any, environmental protection role huts might play in the nation’s recreational opportunity spectrum.
The common wisdom is that huts/yurts limit the environmental impact of overnight visitations in the wild by concentrating use in a limited footprint and in a structure carefully sited and designed to minimize environmental impacts. Is this truism true? Are huts effective in managing environmental impacts in areas of high density overnight use?
Surprisingly, there is no recreational ecology research in USA to prove or disprove this assertion in relation to huts. With the growth of hut systems in the USA and increasing pressure for overnight visitations, and with growth of hut systems in the USA, we need additional empirical data to guide us in conducting evidence-based evaluation of proposals for new hut systems.
Research around the periphery of this fundamental question has already been done. In particular, Dr. Jeffrey Marion (USGS and Virginia Tech Field Station), a leading recreational ecologist, has studied the factors involved in designing and managing campsites to minimize environmental damage. He has also assessed the environmental impact of dispersed and designated camping by backpackers. His findings show that a containment strategy effectively minimizes aggregate impact by restricting camping to a small number of designated expansion-resistant campsites. Marion and his colleagues are currently gauging visitor impacts on the Appalachian Trail to enhance sustainability and improve visitor experiences. This includes assessment of the condition of shelter and campground sites, many of which are heavily overused on the AT. A prior study in Great Smoky Mountains National Park showed that camping shelters accommodated greater numbers of campers with substantially less resource impact than campers using traditional campsites.
The missing piece is research to extend this analysis to study the environmental impact of huts and yurts, and then to compare these with data from other options for overnight accommodations, e.g. dispersed and designated camping, and shelters.
To this end, I’ve written two grant proposals. The first ($35,000) is with Dr. Marion and Dr. Robert Manning (Professor Emeritus, U of Vermont) to federal land management agencies for a two-year study. This would provide a comparative assessment of environmental impacts and user experience of back-country and front-country camping, shelters, and huts/yurts. The methodology will include an international literature review, recreational ecology field studies, and assessing the experience of land managers and hut operators. The second proposal ($4,000), submitted collaboratively with hut folks in the Northeast ,sought to identify best practices in environmental management for hut systems.
Neither proposal was funded. The federal land management agencies are under siege, facing myriad challenges. I need help identifying a foundation or other funding entity that might support this research.
Feeling stuck, but not discouraged, I appeal to you for assistance and/or suggestions:
- who should we be partnering with?
- what philanthropists, foundations and granting agencies should we approach?
- should we undertake a crowdfunding campaign? Anyone willing to help with this?
- should we be taking a fundamentally different approach?
Please contact me or leave comments below.
With faith in science,