Encounter norms offer recreation managers a potentially invaluable source of information to assist in the development of standards concerning quality of visitor experiences. However, it has been debated whether such norms are measurable, and if so, whether they accurately represent visitors’ preferences about acceptable levels of use. This 1991 study explored backcountry encounter norms in the semiprimitive nonmotorized management zone of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Camper parties to this portion of the BWCAW (approximately 82% at the time of the study) were surveyed using “trip diaries'’ to report daily on their actual encounters and preferences for acceptable use levels that would not spoil their sense of being in the wilderness. Findings suggest personal and social encounter norms can be defined by most paddle canoeists that accurately express desired encounters with other parties. However, variability among social encounter norms was discovered. Results suggest that BWCAW managers should consider encounter norms as a key source of information for future management decisions. Moreover, future normative research should focus on developing a better understanding of normative consensus issues. Although much research has examined normative consensus, few findings specify what constitutes sufficient agreement among encounter norms.
- Encounter levels
- Management standards
- Personal and social encounter norms