Recreation Site Monitoring

The Recreation Site Monitoring toolbox provides an overview of recreation site monitoring in wilderness areas. It features the FS Wilderness Stewardship Performance and FS Rapid Assessment protocols, but it includes examples of monitoring programs, protocols, and references for all agencies. To suggest new materials for inclusion, email Lisa Ronald at


The Wilderness Act does not specifically mention recreation sites or monitoring but it does indicate that wilderness areas are "...for the use and enjoyment of the American people..." and they offer "...outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation..." in settings where wilderness character is preserved and natural conditions protected. Recreation site monitoring and the necessary management of recreation sites help ensure that opportunities for wilderness experiences are preserved while adverse impacts to the biophysical components of the wilderness resource as well as wilderness experiences themselves are minimized.

Recreation site monitoring, most often applied to campsites, is the systematic collection and evaluation of site inventory and condition data to establish a baseline and/or identify changes and trends over time. This information is used for visitor use management and resource protection and help managers prioritize wilderness ranger assignments and project work. The primary purpose of recreation site monitoring in wilderness is to provide essential information for identifying and minimizing the biophysical and social impacts of these sites.

Training Resources

Examples of Recreation Site Monitoring Programs

Cloud Peak Wilderness

Daniel Boone NF

Dixie NF

Eagle Cap Wilderness

FS Region 2 Rapid Assessment

Rocky Mountain Region (R2) Rapid Assessments - 2009 & 2011

Region 2 of the Forest Service selected Element 6, Recreation Site Monitoring, as the 10YWSC emphasis item for 2009. Using the term Rapid Assessment the region was able to build a coalition of partners that successfully competed for a National Forest Foundation (NFF) grant to help accomplish the work.

The partners will contribute their own funds, labor, and time to train workers and conduct campsite inventories in many of the region’s wilderness areas. A Rapid Assessment Team (RAT) made up of two Forest Service staff and one Colorado State University graduate student (Tyson Cross) will work with local wilderness rangers in other areas to complete the inventory. Tyson Cross is providing GIS maps of likely campsite locations for each wilderness to be surveyed as part of his graduate work.

Region 2 was awarded additional funds "off the top" from the Washington Office to continue with Rapid Assessments in 2011. A second RAT was assembled to complete this work under the leadership of Steve Sunday.

More information on R2's Rapid Assessment program can be obtained from Ralph Swain, Regional Wilderness Program Manager, 303-275-5058, .

Rocky Mountain National Park

San Juan NF

Sierra and Inyo NFs


Other Relevant Toolboxes

Selected aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute Publications

Hall, T. E. and Farrell, T. A. 2001. Fuelwood Depletion at Wilderness Campsites: Extent and Potential Ecosystem Significance. Ecosystem Conservation, 28(3):241-247.

Developing a Natural Resource Inventory and Monitoring Program for Visitor Impacts on Recreation Sites: A Procedural Manual

Marion, Jeffrey, Natural resources Report NPS/NRVT/NRR-91/06, October 1991