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SHERIDAN – The Bighorn National Forest is a significant part of life for Sheridan County residents who delight in viewing wildflowers, hiking the backcountry and fishing a mountain stream.
As Memorial Day weekend approaches, people will head into the mountains to kick off favorite summer activities. While in the forest – starting this weekend and continuing through September – visitors should be on the lookout for forest service staff conducting surveys about visitor use.
National Visitor Use Monitoring is conducted for each of the 155 national forests in the United States every five years. Bighorn National Forest was last monitored in 2008, according to NVUM Coordinator Anne Crecelius.
“If they see us, a Student Conservation Association intern and myself, they will see multiple reflective signs set up that say, ‘Survey Site Please Stop.’ We’ll be standing by a Forest Service rig, looking very cheerful, hoping visitors will stop,” Crecelius said.
The visitor use surveys are conducted through a verbal interview and take five to 15 minutes depending on how much time a person has to stop.
Survey topics include demographics, economics and satisfaction.
Demographics – age, gender, race, zip code and the nature, location and duration of the visit – help forest staff identify the forest’s recreation niche.
Economics – how much money was spent within 50 miles of the forest boundary for gas, food, lodging and other activities – help demonstrate to local communities the positive effects on income and employment that tourists offer.
Satisfaction – what a visitor liked and didn’t like about roads, trails, facilities and services – helps forest management decide the best places to use limited resources for improved visitor satisfaction.
“There are a number of purposes for the survey. The one most important to us locally is to demonstrate that there actually is use of this national forest and resources and funding should be allocated to its continued management,” Ruth Beckwith, Bighorn National Forest landscape architect, said.
Survey information is also provided to travel and tourism organizations for marketing use and to congress to demonstrate the contributions the forest system makes to the nation.
The NVUM survey for the Bighorn National Forest began October 1, 2012, according to Crecelius. A total of 200 different survey sites must be completed in random spots and random times.
Sites include campgrounds, trailheads, lodges, wilderness areas, interpretive centers and special locations in the forest such as the Medicine Wheel. To date, 56 survey sites have been completed and 133 remain. Each site can result in two to 100 completed surveys, depending on traffic at the location.
According to Beckwith, the surveys also monitor what percentage of traffic comes from people traveling through for work or other reasons. She hopes a variety of people – not just recreationists – will participate. Beckwith also assured that no personally identifiable information will be collected.
In 2008, NVUM calculated 732,000 visits to the Bighorn National Forest, according to the 2008 Visitor Use Report. Nearly 66 percent of those visits were for recreation, 4 percent were work related and nearly 3 percent were for a restroom break. Hikes, pleasure drives, fishing, ATV use and nature viewing were key activities. Approximately 90 percent of those interviewed were somewhat or very satisfied.
“The general impression I’ve received is that people love their mountain and want to be involved to keep it as nice as it is,” Crecelius said.