Today, Off-highway vehicle (OHV) use is one if the fastest growing recreation activities taking place on the public of the western United States. OHV includes, but is not limited to motorcycles designed for off road use, All terrain vehicles (ATVs), 4-wheel drive automobiles, and other vehicles such a sand rails or dune buggies (Cordell, Betz, Green, & Owens, 2005).
As the United States population grows, so does the necessity for outdoor recreation, and OHV use is no exception; between 1982 and 2001 OHV recreation participation increased an additional 100%. Between the years 1999 and 2005, OHV Users grew from 36 t0 51 million people. The challenge land managers face is addressing the conflicting needs and expectations of millions that use America’s federal lands (Cordell et al., 2005). This fast growth in recreation and increasing demands on resources leads to even greater concern with recreation capacities than in the past (Whittaker, Shelby, Manning, Cole, & Haas, 2011).
Concerning recreation, carrying capacities have been considered since the early 1930’s (Stankey & Manning, 1986). Since its introduction the concept or carrying capacities has evolved considerably. Capacity serves as a signal to managers indicating that additional action may be necessary to protect the visitor experiences and local resources (Haas, 2001). A more specific definition of visitor capacities is described as “the amount and type of use that is compatible with the management prescription for an area” (Whittaker, Shelby, Manning, Cole, & Haas, 2011; McCool & Lime, 2001). For example, the number of outfitters permitted per day at a particular entry point of a recreation area.
When defining carrying capacity it is important to distinguish it from crowding. Many recreation areas are used heavily (such as the St. Anthony Sand dunes) but this may not equate to users perceiving it as crowded. Crowding s considered a normative concept, which is based on an individual’s judgment that a particular area contains an excess of other people (Stokols, 1972; Manning, 1997). A key point to remember is that the perceptions of expected recreation outcomes will vary between individuals as well as among activity types (Haas, 2001). For example, within the wilderness it is assumed that an individual is seeking peace and tranquility and would prefer to not see many other users, whereas individuals participating in motorized recreation at the sand dunes may view many other users as acceptable.
There are two key angles to look at carrying capacity, the first being mostly interested in the ecological perspective. How many individuals can be allowed to use an area without harming the resources? The second viewpoint is how compatible is the supply of an area to the demand of the users? Are the parking, camping, and bathroom facilities adequate for the number if individuals seeking to use an area (Lime & Stankey, 1971; Whittaker, Shelby,...