Crowding norms at frontcountry sites: A visual approach to setting standards of quality

Robert E. Manning, Wayne A. Freimund, David W. Lime, David G. Pitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


Indicators and standards of quality have emerged as key variables in defining and managing carrying capacity. Moreover, normative theory has been found useful when applied to the difficult task of setting standards of quality. However, the traditional numerical approach to measuring crowding and related norms has several potential shortcomings when applied to relatively high-use areas such as frontcountry attraction sites. This study applies a visual approach to measuring crowding norms in addition to the traditional numerical approach. The study is focused on Delicate Arch, a primary visitor attraction in Arches National Park, Utah. Image capture technology was used to develop a series of 16 photographs illustrating a range of people at one time at Delicate Arch. A random sample of 473 visitors was asked to rate the acceptability of each photograph as part of a survey conducted in the summer and fall of 1993. A strong relationship was found between the number of people in the photographs and acceptability ratings. Moreover, there was considerable consensus among the sample regarding acceptability ratings of each photograph, and respondent evaluations of actual use conditions experienced were generally congruent with the social norm developed. These findings suggest an empirically rational basis for setting a standard of quality for crowding at Delicate Arch. However, the normative standards developed from the visual and traditional numerical approaches were found to differ substantially. The theoretical and empirical literature on norms suggests that the visual approach may provide a more valid measure of crowding norms in relatively high-use areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-59
Number of pages21
JournalLeisure Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996


  • Carrying capacity
  • Crowding norms
  • Frontcountry
  • Image capture technology
  • Standards of quality

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