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Study Goals and Objectives

Forest-based recreation and tourism are important and growing components of the Northern Forest's economy, quality of life, physical well-being, learning, sense of place, and social connection. Tourism promotion agencies, state planning and management entities, and academics rely on visitor use to guide recreation and tourism planning efforts; however, existing empirical data on travel characteristics are often not detailed enough, not available, expensive to collect, and/or too limited in geographic scope to illuminate the relationship between visitation and the features of interest to visitors.

Our goal was to explore the utility of data "mined" from social media for quantifying forest-based tourism in the Northern Forest Region. Specific objectives were to:

  1. identify the hotspots of outdoor recreation use in the Northern Forest;
  2. examine the seasonality and diurnality of visitor activity in these areas;
  3. explore if intensity of image capture can serve as a proxy for direct on-the-ground estimates of visitor use;
  4. identify major visitor movement traces (i.e., itineraries);
  5. identify (based in large part on automated image analysis) the forest landscape contexts and visual targets that trigger engagement by visitors.

We first performed a needs assessment with key decision makers in the region to better understand how social media data could be synthesized to guide their activities. Conditioned on feedback received, we undertook a demonstration project of rural lands in the Northern Forest region of NY, VT, ME and NH using geo-located images posted to Flickr. We know of no other attempt to utilize the vast information in social media platforms to advance forest management in the US; so this work is novel both regionally and nationally.

The study is intended to directly benefit tourism planning agencies and forest managers in the Northern Forest Region by providing them with detailed information about the trip characteristics of visitors in the region, helping them to better manage and promote popular visitor destinations, and more effectively utilize budgets and staff time.