Exploring Visitor Off-Trail Behaviours – National Parks Association of Queensland

Exploring Visitor Off-Trail Behaviours

The following article is grounded in the research conducted by Edmund Goh, as outlined in his paper titled “Walking Off-Trail in National Parks: Monkey See Monkey Do. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01490400.2020.1755750

National parks hold a special place in the hearts of outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers worldwide. These protected areas offer sanctuary to diverse ecosystems, serving as havens for wildlife and playgrounds for adventurers seeking solace in the great outdoors. Yet, amid the breath-taking landscapes and pristine beauty, a concerning issue persists – visitor off-trail behaviour.

The allure of wandering off the beaten path often proves irresistible to park visitors, despite warnings and regulations urging them to stay on designated trails. This behaviour not only poses risks to individual safety but also threatens delicate ecosystems, trampling vegetation and disrupting habitats. To better understand the factors driving off-trail behaviour, researchers have turned to behavioural theories, particularly the theory of planned behaviour (TPB).

In a recent study, scholars extended the TPB framework to explore the pro-environmental construct in predicting visitor off-trail intentions at national parks. Through quantitative questionnaire items developed from an elicitation study, researchers examined the interplay of behavioural beliefs, normative beliefs, control beliefs, and pro-environmental values among 325 respondents.

The findings of the study revealed intriguing insights into the psychology behind visitor off-trail behaviour. Behavioural beliefs emerged as the strongest predictor of off-trail intentions, with visitors harbouring the belief that straying from designated paths would lead to a shorter route. Normative beliefs also played a significant role, particularly the influence of friends as a reference group encouraging off-trail exploration.

Springbrook National Park – Unknown

However, control beliefs and pro-environmental values exhibited weaker predictive power, suggesting that visitors may perceive walking off-trail as easy and inconsequential in terms of environmental impact. Despite possessing strong pro-environmental values, visitors did not necessarily equate off-trail behaviour with ecological harm, highlighting a disconnect between values and behaviour in this context.

While the study confirmed the efficacy of the TPB model in elucidating visitor behavioural intentions, it also underscored the limitations of relying solely on attitudinal factors and pro-environmental values to predict off-trail behaviour. This nuanced understanding paves the way for more targeted interventions and management strategies aimed at curbing noncompliant behaviour in national parks. From a theoretical standpoint, the study contributes to the refinement of the TPB framework by incorporating pro-environmental values and shedding light on their limited predictive power in specific behavioural contexts. This nuanced understanding of visitor motivations can inform the development of more effective management strategies tailored to the unique challenges posed by off-trail behaviour.

Practically, park authorities can leverage these insights to implement a combination of direct management techniques and social marketing initiatives to discourage off-trail walking. Zoning orders, physical barriers, fines, and penalties can be employed to enforce compliance, while persuasive messaging targeting attitudes and social norms can promote responsible behaviour among visitors.

Ultimately, fostering a culture of environmental stewardship and responsible recreation is paramount in preserving the natural splendour of national parks for future generations. By understanding the underlying factors driving off-trail behaviour, park authorities and researchers can work together to strike a delicate balance between conservation and visitor enjoyment, ensuring that these cherished landscapes remain unspoiled for years to come.

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