Review of Several Recreational Conflict Research Articles

Review of Several Recreational Conflict Research Articles

Many involved in the "heat of the conflict" act as if this is the first time Recreational Conflict has ever occurred. They forget that as children they fought others for the use of a favorite toy. They also forget many similar Recreational Conflicts (Bikers vs. Hikers) and even several in their own field (water skiers vs. fishermen, motor boats vs. canoes). We will now provide brief discussion of several research papers on RC. A full listing of these and other resources is listed in the Bibliography.

  1. Perceived Conflict Between Urban Cross-Country Skiers and Snowmobilers in Alberta
  2. A study of Conflict in Recreational Land Use: Snowmobiling vs. Ski-Touring
  3. Social Psychological Explanations for the Persistence of a Conflict Between Paddling Canoeists and Motorcraft Users in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area
  4. Factors in User Group Conflict Between Hikers and Mountain Bikers
  5. The Effect of Recreation Goals on Conflict Perception: The Case of Water Skiers and Fishermen
  6. Exploring the Role of Tolerance in Recreational Conflict
  7. Who Hates Whom in the Great Outdoors: The Impact of Recreational Specialization and Technologies of Play
  8. Conflict in Outdoor Recreation: A Theoretical Perspective
  9. Recreational Specialization and Norms of Depreciative Behavior Among Canoeists

Perceived Conflict Between Urban Cross-Country Skiers and Snowmobilers in Alberta

by Edgar L. Jackson and Robert A. G. Wong
Journal of Leisure Research
Vol. 14 (1982) No.2
Pages 47-62.
Conflict is one way. Skiers perceive snowmobilers as interfering with their activity. Snowmobilers enjoy or are indifferent to skiers. Minimal mutual understanding exists between the groups. Differences in perceived conflict are much more complex than competition for land; they involve recreational orientation and motivations for participation. Cross-country skiers prefer self-propelled, low-impact activities which reflect their desire for solitude, tranquility, and a relatively undisturbed natural environment. Snowmobilers prefer machine oriented, more demanding activities that provide a sense of adventure in a setting that also provides socializing.

The authors made this statement based on studying previous research: "One of the most bitter forms of conflict is that which exists between recreationist who engage in mechanized activities and those who prefer non-mechanized or self-propelled forms of recreation, exemplified by snowmobiling and cross-country skiing."

The study's objective was to examine direct aspects of the perceived conflict and to differentiate groups based upon recreational orientation (see what other recreational activities they participate in) and motivations for participation.

Four basic interrelated principles of Recreational Conflict are discussed.

  1. Mechanized vs. non-mechanized recreationists. Factors include noise and knowledge of presence of machines, both of which compromise solitude and tranquility desired by non-mechanized recreationists.

  2. Conflicts are usually asymmetrical (one way). Usually the non-mechanized group is "mad as hell" at the mechanized group, but the mechanized group is very tolerant or even indifferent to the non-mechanized group."

  3. The conflict is more complex than competition for land or resources. It arises because of motivations for participation are compromised and anticipated experiences are unfulfilled. Members of one group feel they were prevented from having a complete experience due to the intrusion of others. It is the quality of the recreation experience that causes conflict, not competition for resources.

  4. Conflict exists at two levels. Direct contact including perceived impacts of the other activity upon the environment and indirect confrontation representing a general feeling of disliking or unwillingness to appreciate the other group's views. If sides begin to form interest groups and become identified with opposing platforms, conflict may represent a misunderstanding of viewpoints or a basic difference in philosophy.

This study focused purely on urban residents due to prior evidence suggesting conflicts between rural residents are less intense than those between urban dwellers.

Questionnaires were used to determine other recreational activities members of each group participate in. Skiers were found to more frequently participate in quieter, less demanding activities such as walking, hiking and bicycling while snowmobilers were much more likely to participate in noisier more demanding activities such as hunting, trail biking, and dune buggying.

Questions were asked about which kinds and sizes of groups they would like to encounter on the trail. Cross-country skiers wanted to see other skiers and no snowmobiles. Snowmobilers did not care who else was on the trail.

When asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement, "skiers and snowmobilers can mix happily if both use common sense." 74% of the skiers disagreed, while 87% of the snowmobilers agreed. This illustrates the asymmetricalness of the conflict. The skiers are upset and the snowmobilers do not even recognize the conflict.

In determining motivations for participation, cross-country skiers found physical exercise, tranquility, solitude, and absence of man made features more important. Snowmobilers were more interested in being with family and friends, adventure and challenge, meeting other people, getting away from radio and TV, getting to a destination, and prestige.

Suggestions for conflict reduction included:

A Study of Conflict in Recreational Land Use: Snowmobiling vs. Ski-Touring

by Timothy B. Knopp and John D. Tyger
Journal of Leisure Research
Vol. 5 (1973) No.3
Pages 6-17.
A recreational activity may become associated with a particular social group. Traditional mechanized vs. non-mechanized conflict may extend to different attitudes of groups involved. These attitudes may be extensions of cultural trends. At one Off Road Vehicle hearing, the authors heard proponents of Off Road Vehicles refer to their opponents as "long-haired unemployed hippies" and "elitist millionaires." While off roaders are frequently classified as "lower-class, uneducated and consumer oriented."

The authors wanted to test the hypothesis: Those individual who engage in motorized recreation are less likely to understand and/or sympathize with the concept of devoting specific recreational areas for distinct purposes than are those who prefer activities with less environmental impact.

In Minnesota snowmobiling and large scale ski touring arrived at about the same time. Snowmobiles did begin to become popular a few years before ski touring.

Everybody wants to go though untouched virgin powder snow. Snowmobiles are able to "track up" large areas of virgin snow far faster than ski tourers. In a matter of a few hours, several snowmobiles can "rip up" the snow from horizon to horizon. This is very resented by skiers.

Snowmobiles require registration which makes it easy to identify owners, determine the number snowmobiles, and to estimate the number of participants. The authors do mention a certain level of non-compliance (unregistered snowmobiles) and acknowledge snowmobiles are often used by children of the owner.

Ski tourers and snowmobilers were asked a number of environmental issue questions. Ski tourers were found much more likely to conform to "environmentalist views." When the same groups were quizzed on educational background, even though snowmobilers were more likely to have a high school education and some college level schooling than the general population of Minnesota, they were far below the ski touring group in the percentage of college graduates (3.6 % vs. 40.6%). When queried about incomes, ski tourers were found more likely to belong to the segment of the population that has already "arrived" while snowmobilers may still be striving to improve themselves financially.

The authors observed that snowmobiling has received considerable press and media coverage, partially due to strong promotion by manufactures. Ski touring is now receiving moderate media exposure but will probably never receive the exposure generated by the snowmobile manufacturers.

It is relatively easy for the average person to understand a public library or public road is intended for a specific purpose, but their perception of a park is much more subjective. The authors proved participants a number of statements and measured their agreement with them. A few of the statements are listed below.

Results were as expected. Snowmobilers tend to be more likely to think everybody should be able to "do their own thing", and everybody should have access, while ski tourers are more likely to feel some activities should not be permitted because they disturb others. When snowmobilers were divided into two groups (from the big cities vs. rural) there were no significant differences in the responses (big city vs. rural).

In their conclusions, they state that an "anything goes" attitude on public land may reduce any resistance a normal person might have toward identifying themselves with a sport as controversial as snowmobiling. Once converted to a given form of recreation a participant will often find himself under pressure to conform to attitudes of his fellow participants. The analogy "birds of feather flock together" may be appropriate. Many participants from both groups were members of sport clubs centering around their chosen activity.

People choosing between two forms of activity may be swayed by generalized attitudes, especially if the activities are conflicting and mutually exclusive.

As the nations attitude becomes more concerned about the environment, more support is expected for "less consumptive forms of recreation." Trends of this nature probably deserve more attention than current participation rates. Public land management officials would like to favor the winning side in any conflict, yet how they respond to perceived demand has the effect of encouraging or discouraging particular activities. Responding only to current rates of participation, may bring about increased conflicts in the future.

Social Psychological Explanations for the Persistence of a Conflict Between Paddling Canoeists and Motorcraft Users in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area

by Bonnie Jane Eizen Adelman, Thomas A. Herberlein, and Thomas M. Bronnicksen. 
Leisure Sciences Vol. 5 (1986) No. 1.
Pages 45-61.
The Boundary Water Canoe Area (BWCA) stretches along 200 miles of the Canadian border with northeastern Minnesota. A one way conflict has existed between paddling canoeists and motorcraft users in the BWCA for over 15 years. Similar conflicts between mechanized and non-mechanized recreationist have existed elsewhere. This paper uses social psychological interaction theory in an attempt to explain why recreational conflict occurs and persists in a particular area.

A study identifying conflicts between canoeists and motorcraft users in the BWCA area was done in 1964 (about 15 years before this paper).

The paper begins by focusing on why this conflict is asymmetric (one way). Generally a person who likes another is liked in return. Also, one who dislikes the other is disliked in return. This relationship does not hold in mechanical vs. non-mechanical recreational conflict.Since we do not often know the other person's inner most thoughts, we respond based on outward cues. A paddlers first impression of a motor boat may be based on obvious cues of speed and noise of the boat.

Researchers have previously found motor craft users either enjoy or do not mind meeting canoes on the water. The majority of boaters see canoeists as having similar attitudes and values to themselves. On the other hand, canoeists perceive boaters as having dissimilar attitudes and values.

The authors hypothesized the two groups had different perceptions of the BWCA in terms of what it is, what it should be, and reasons for their visit. The two groups have a competitive relationship, in that boaters could reach the best fishing and camping spots first. And finally, that canoeists reciprocate waves and smiles to motor boaters while silently disliking them. This greeting behavior masks their true feelings and helps perpetuate the asymmetric relationship.

A questionnaire was developed to determine general reactions toward meeting and seeing other users on the lakes in the area. Participants were also asked how they felt about their own group, the other group, the environment, life style interests, camping style, if they felt the other group was competing with them for resources, and to select adjectives describing the other group. The results of the study showed conflict originally discovered in 1964 still existed in the same area. Paddlers enjoyed meeting or seeing other paddlers while they disliked meeting or seeing motorcraft users. Motorcraft users were neutral toward meeting or seeing other motorcraft users and enjoyed meeting or seeing paddlers. 67% of the motorcraft users enjoyed meeting paddlers on the water, while only 4% of the paddlers enjoyed meeting boaters.

More paddlers held negative feelings toward boaters than boaters did toward paddlers. When motorcraft users met paddlers on the water they felt 45 % of paddlers were neutral to them and that 33% of paddlers really enjoyed seeing them. In reality 71% of paddlers disliked boaters.

The majority of motorcraft users did not perceive themselves as disturbing paddlers, yet 45% of paddlers thought they were occasionally disturbed and 34% felt they were frequently disturbed by boaters.

A number of questions were asked about the environment, camping style, wilderness, and what they do at BWCA. 80% of boaters felt they had similar feelings to paddlers on these issues, but only 30 % of paddlers felt they had similar feelings as boaters. 75% of motorcraft users felt paddlers were "A Lot Like Me" while only 7% of paddlers felt boaters were "A Lot Like Me."

Significantly more paddlers than motorcraft users felt the other group got in their way at portages, made too much noise, disturbed their fishing, got in their way on the water, were noisy in campgrounds at night, and took all the good campsites. Additionally 61% of paddlers felt that motorcraft waves upset their craft.

As expected, paddling canoeists were reciprocating waves and smiles of power boaters while in fact disliking them. Significant differences did exist between the two groups on reported and perceived behavior of who smiled first.

Before this new study, the authors suspected the asymmetricalness of conflict discovered in 1964 would no longer exist on the same site. If canoeist despised power boaters at this site for 15 years, surely the boaters would "pick up on it" and begin to dislike canoeists. In addition, legislation had been proposed concerning use of the area and boaters might feel threatened by canoeists and begin to despise them. The study found the conflict is still "one way." The authors noted that motorcraft users, perceiving paddlers as similar to themselves, and liking them, initiated the waves and smiles to paddlers. Only after receiving friendly greetings, did paddlers smile back.

The only suggestion toward resolution offered was, "managers need to address the needs of both groups and work on helping them address the needs of both groups and work on helping them understand the needs and perceptions of other visitors."

Factors in User Group Conflict Between Hikers and Mountain Bikers

by Roy Ramthun
Leisure Sciences Vol. 17 (1995)
Pages 159-169.
The location of this study was the Mill Creek Canyon near Salt Lake City UT a very heavily used recreational area with fewer restrictions than others in the area.

The rapid growth of mountain biking has created the possibility for conflicts between them and other user groups. This study examined 4 factors:

that may make individuals more sensitive to behavior of other groups.They present the Jacob and Schreyer theory for studying conflicts in outdoor recreation settings. (see "Conflicts in Outdoor Recreation a Theoretical Perspective") and focus on importance of the level of tolerance an individual has for the other group.

Measures of Conflict

Social interaction plays a major role in the conflict process. While hikers may recognize the behavior of bikers may interfere with their experience, if those behaviors are seldom encountered, conflict seldom occurs. Research on crowding in recreational sites has shown there is a great difference between perceptions of participants and what actually occurred. An individual's belief that a particular situation is a problem may not correspond to the individual's attitude or conduct in field situations. In this study, participants were asked if they felt there were problems with conflicts between bikers and hikers, then they were asked if they actually experienced this conflict on their last visit.

5.6 % of the bikers felt hikers had caused problems such as not yielding the trail to bikers, while 32.2% of hikers felt bikers had caused problems with their experiences. The conflict appears to be asymmetric (one way) as are most recreational conflicts.

The outgroup evaluation variable (the stereotyping and assumptions about people that are members of the other group) proved to be the most powerful predictor for sensitivity to interference by members of the group.

"Years of experience" was found to be significant in predicting sensitivity to outgroup behavior, but not in the way it was hypothesized to be. Those with the most experience were actually most tolerant of behavior of the other group. It was earlier felt those with the most experience would feel more resource ownership and thus be less tolerant of others. Some suggestion for the actual situation were those with more experience have more realistic expectations of the experience (they know in advance they may run into bikers)> Additionally, the principle of displacement may be in effect. The very experienced users who were most antagonized by bikers may have already left and gone somewhere else.

. Frequency of participation and the intensity of identification with the activity were not found to be significant predictors of sensitivity.

Possible Ways of Reducing the Conflict

An emphasis on understanding and acceptance, if successful would help to redefine the social situation in outdoor recreation settings.

The Effect of Recreation Goals on Conflict Perception;
The Case of Water Skiers and Fishermen

by James H. Gramann and Rabel J. Burdge
Journal of Leisure Research Vol. 13 (1981) No.1
Pages 15-27.
A weak conflict was found between fishermen and skiers at a midwestern reservoir. Fishermen who placed a greater emphasis on tension release, various forms of escape, and nature enjoyment were more likely to defined high speed boating as "reckless."

Ski boats tend to need a lot of space to operate in and create large wakes. These characteristics were thought to be the source of conflicts. The study identified three groups: water skiers, fishermen who experienced conflicts with skiers, fishermen who did not experience conflicts with skiers. The "fishermen" studied were in fishing boats. The study tried to determine why some fishermen experienced a conflict and others did not.

Some fishermen themselves used high powered boats. It was wondered, but not tested for, if that might be the group that did not experience conflict.

The authors made a nice statement about the purpose of managers of public lands. They said, "One of the widely help objectives of public management of recreation areas is to maximize the flow of benefits to people through quality of recreational experiences."

Exploring the Role of Tolerance in Recreational Conflict

by Mark I. Ivy, William P. Stewart, and Chi-Chuan Lue
Journal of Leisure Research Vol. 24 (1992) No.4 
Pages 348-360.
Individual tolerance was defined as one's willingness to share resources with members of other activity groups. It was hypothesized that tolerance for other groups was inversely related to perceived conflict.

Several questions were asked of a boaters and canoeists regarding the Everglades. Some questions tried to determine the individual's tolerance level for others. Other questions focused on the amount of conflict with the other recreational group. It was found that more tolerant individuals in both groups experienced less conflict than their peers. They used this finding to advance the concept that spatial separation of the two groups might not be totally required. If a relatively small area was established for less tolerant canoeists, then more tolerant canoeists could use the entire facility. Boaters would only be encountering tolerant canoeists and much smaller "canoe only" area would be required than if all canoes operated only in "canoe only" areas.

The ratio of "anticipated number of encounters" before the activity occurred to "actual number of encounters" during the activity was very significant in determining the amount of conflict. If a canoeist anticipated very few encounters, but instead several occurred, they tended to experience conflict. On the other hand, if they anticipated a large number of contacts, but only a few occurred, they were happy and tended not to experience conflict. Using this idea, the authors suggest facility managers prepare canoeists for the "worst case scenario" during the boat registration process. This tends to adjust canoeists goals for the opportunities available and less conflict may be experienced.

Who Hates Whom in the Great Outdoors: The Impact of Recreational Specialization and Technologies of Play

by Bill Devall and Joseph Harry
Leisure Sciences Vol. 4 (1981) No.4
Pages 399-418
The authors offer the concept that social relationships in outdoor recreation setting are heavily influenced by recreational technologies. Recreationists participate in clusters of technological similar recreations. They hypothesized users of more physically obtrusive technologies are resented by users of less obtrusive technologies.

A questionnaire was used to obtain data from participants in many different recreational activities in the Williamette Basin of Oregon. The study found distinct clusters of recreational technologies did exist, resenting relationships were found between users of different technologies, but these resentments were directed toward both obtrusive and non-obtrusive technologies. Conflicts were surprisingly found to be between clusters rather than within their own principle cluster.

The authors suggest that a significant portion of user perceived crowding does not simply result from too many users at a site, but is due to mixing various technologies at the site. Problems may be particularly severe when one activity involves quiet, slow speed, and an appreciation for nature and the other activity requires speed and noise ("oar power" vs. "motor power").

Diversification in recreational technologies occurs in hybridization or combination of pre-existing devices and activities. An example of this is water skiing, a combination of skiing and motor boating. This kind of hybridization tends to give rise to technological clusters of related activities. The activities of boating and fishing yield a variety of activities including: motor boat fishing, rowboat fishing, shore fishing, motor boating, rowing, etc. The authors suggest that an individual will tend to participate in activities within a cluster much more frequently than those of other clusters.

Newer technologies such as snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and hovercraft tend to be much more "sensory obtrusive" than older technologies. Resenting relationships between devices of different technologies tends to be asymmetrical (one way). For example, canoeists resent boaters, but boaters haven no objection to canoeists.

When speed is involved an additional problem may enter the system. Users of fast moving recreational equipment may feel constrained by the presence of slower moving equipment. While slower moving recreationists may fear being "ran over."

Conflict in Outdoor Recreation:
A Theoretical Perspective

by Gerald R. Jacob and Richard Schreyer
Journal of Leisure Sciences Vo. 12 (1980) No. 4 
Pages 368-380
The authors attempt to build a theory of Recreational Conflict and identify its characteristics.

Conflict is defined as goal interference attributed to others behavior.

Major factors behind outdoor recreational conflicts have been found to be:

  1. Activity Style: The various personal meanings assigned to an activity.
  2. Resource Specificity: The significance attached to using a specific recreation resource for a given recreational experience.
  3. Mode of Experience: The varying expectations of how the natural environment will be perceived.
  4. Lifestyle Tolerance: The tendency to accept of reject lifestyles different from one's own.

The intensity of the above factors, differences between factors for the two groups, and amount of interaction (usually determined by population of the groups, size of the area, and speed of the activity) can be used to estimate intensity of Recreational Conflict in an area.

Recreational Specialization and Norms of Depreciative Behavior Among Canoeists

by J. Douglas Wellman, Joseph W. Roggenbuck, and Alan C. Smith
Journal of Leisure Research
Vol. 14 (1982) No.4
Pages 323-340.
Mild whitewater canoeists were studied to see if attitudes toward depreciative behavior varied with specialization. A list of 68 actions felt to be objectionable was prepared (examples are: cutting down live trees, use of drugs and alcohol, disturbing livestock, not wearing a life vest). Highly Specialized canoeists (those investing a lot of money and time in the activity) were asked to rate various depreciative behaviors in seriousness of the behavior. Similarly a group of Lowly Specialized canoeists were asked the same questions.

Overall there was an absence of consensus among both low and high specialists as to the seriousness of various behaviors. A large standard deviation was found in the ratings of the answers from both groups to many of the questions. There was not a tendency for Highly Specialized Canoeists to be in more agreement with their peers than for Lowly Specialized Canoeists to be in agreement.

Few differences in attitudes between the two groups were found. In the 11 questions of 68 that showed a statistical difference, 9 of involved the Highly Specialized group rating the behavior more serious than the Lowly Specialized group. Several of these questions were in the safety area.

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