Date of Award

Fall 11-21-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science - Forestry



First Advisor

Pat Stephens Williams

Second Advisor

Ray Darville

Third Advisor

Matthew McBroom


The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex (BMWC) encompasses 3 federal wilderness areas and spans over 1.5 million acres of iconic mountains and valleys in northwestern Montana. Here visitors can find a plethora of recreation opportunity that give access to some of the most rugged country that can be found in the lower 48 states. However, managing wilderness areas comes with the challenge of both preserving the natural resources found within their borders and enabling opportunities for recreational experiences. Wilderness social scientists always have striven to determine the type of visitors coming to wilderness, and see what sorts of experiences they pursue. Many attempts have been made to use the pristine conditions in the BMWC to collect data on visitor use.

Using two previous studies as a foundation, this research focused on developing an updated survey with the goal of discerning visitor use within the complex, experiences sought after, management conditions tolerated, and noteworthy management actions that potentially need to be undertaken going forward. These goals were addressed with the development of an onsite survey that was administered during the summer of 2018 at eight selected high use trailheads found throughout the complex. Of those responding to the onsite questionnaire (n=209), a majority of (81.1%) of visitors have had previous experience in the Bob Marshall and indicated that they were most influenced by

the prospect of immersing themselves in the various dimensions of wilderness character such as solitude, remoteness, and natural settings. The type of recreation use was primarily hikers (64.6%) that traveled in small groups of two to three individuals. A second follow up survey was solicited to visitors via email to collect more in depth data about perception toward management and conditions within the backcountry. Of those respondents (n=58), visitor attitude toward management conditions was overall reported to be positive with a vast majority (93.1%) of respondents claiming high satisfaction for their trip. Using these results, anecdotal experiences, and reviewed literature, additional commentary was generated addressing possible future pitfalls that could be experienced based upon various types of feedback provided by visitors. This study will be one of many that will continue to observe the ever changing dimensions of outdoor recreation visitor use and behavior.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

BMWC Onsite Data.sav (26 kB)
Onsite Data sets

BMWC Qualtrics Data_Cleaned.sav (244 kB)
Online Data sets



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