Social Impacts of Design Alternatives, Crater Lake National Park


Crater Lake National Park was developed in the early 1900’s. At that time the prevailing philosophy of park development was to build roads directly to an area’s major attraction and then place developments such as lodges, campgrounds, and other visitor facilities as close as possible. As a result Crater Lake has roads to the caldera from both the north and south entrances, and Rim Village, the center of visitor activity, is right on the rim. Similar development patterns can be seen in other parks developed around the same time; Yosemite and Yellowstone are examples.

This philosophy has changed with increasing park use and the environmental movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. There is currently a greater concern for leaving the “natural wonders” more nearly in their natural state, keeping developments outside the park or at least away from major attractions. Mt. McKinley is an example, where vehicle traffic is restricted and development is limited.

This change in philosophy has created some problems for parks developed in earlier times. At Crater Lake there have been suggestions for redevelopment ranging from minor modification of existing facilities to complete removal of all buildings from the rim area. The latter alternative has been rejected, but there is still interest in some major changes in Rim Village and other areas around the lake.

Sociological research at Crater Lake was designed to anticipate the effects of various design changes. It is important to remember that developments have little value in and of themselves; their purpose is to enhance or facilitate visitor experiences. We usually think pretty carefully about how verbal messages such as signs, brochures, or programs affect people. But behavior is also shaped by the arrangement and appearance of physical features such as roads, parking areas, and walkways.

The general strategy of the sociological research was twofold. The first priority was to understand the effects of current design on visitor behavior. Given the existing facilities at Rim Village, for example, what do people do there and what kind of “Crater Lake Experience” do they have? With this “base line” established, the second concern was to try to predict how changes in development might alter visitor activities. If, for example, part of the parking space at Rim Village were moved to another area, how would use patterns and visitor experiences change?

The major data collection technique was direct observation of visitor behavior. There is a great deal of evidence showing that what people say they do is different from what they actually do. Systematic observation of behavior helps avoid this pitfall, and it is possible to make inferences about visitor experiences from detailed descriptions of activities. 1

Studies at Crater Lake occurred in a variety of locations. This report is organized into sections which address the following issues: 1) behavior patterns at Rim Village and changes produced by experimental closure of the cafeteria parking area; 2) characteristics of Rim Drive pull-outs, and their effects on behavior; 3) how people use or interact with walls and barriers; 4) visitor use patterns throughout the park; 5) visitor information needs at different locations; and 6) potential effects of changes in Mazama Campground.

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