Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



Major Professor

J. Mark Fly

Committee Members

David Ostermeier, David Folz


This study focuses on the behaviors, attitudes, perceptions and preferences of visitors to Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mt. LeConte (elevation 6,593 ft.) is a popular tourist destination year-round. In addition to the trails that access the summit, there is a backcountry shelter and a rustic lodge, built in 1926, for overnight guests. The upcoming expiration of the Concession Contract for Mt. LeConte Lodge makes it necessary to conduct an Environmental Assessment. This project serves the dual objectives of providing data needed for the Environmental Assessment (EA) and meeting the General Management Plan requirement to monitor visitor impacts on Mt. LeConte. Previous research on Mt. LeConte’s summit focused solely on visitor use patterns as measured through observation and trail counts. No information has previously been gathered on visitors’ behaviors, attitudes, perceptions, and preferences. To fulfill these goals, this study was conducted with four specific objectives: 1) to gather descriptive data on Mt. LeConte’s visitors, such as demographic and behavioral information, 2) to determine what services and facilities visitors use and would like to have available in the future, 3) to measure the impacts of Mt. LeConte’s visitors on the natural resource and visitors’ recreational experiences, and 4) to assess visitor satisfaction with the management of the summit area and the lodge itself. The Human Dimensions Lab at the University of Tennessee conducted the survey at the summit of Mt. LeConte during four survey periods over a one-year period between October 25, 2002 and July 1, 2003. Surveys were administrated during each of the four seasons to control for possible seasonal variations. A total of 1163 people participated in the survey. The survey times did not include a random sample of days throughout the year because of logistic and cost considerations, including the physical and financial investment of having interviewers at a remote site such as Mt. LeConte.

Managers of National Parks are faced with many social, resource, and policy issues. The challenge is maintaining an appropriate balance between visitation, resource protection, and regulations. The literature concerning visitor and resource management issues is reviewed, as are the concepts of carrying capacity, crowding, coping mechanisms and visitor satisfaction. Difficulties with measuring crowding and visitor satisfaction are also discussed.

The survey asked visitors about trails, services and facilities they had used, what places they visited, general satisfaction questions about the lodge and its food service and what services and facilities they would like to have available at Mt. LeConte in the future. They were asked how many people they had seen on their trip and whether they were comfortable with that number. The survey also asked how much impact visitors thought the current use levels were having on Mt. LeConte’s natural resources as well as what they thought about National Park Service management, ranger presence, and policies.

Overall, respondents indicated satisfaction with the services and facilities provided, the number of people they encountered on their trips to the lodge, and lodge and NPS management. Satisfaction ratings with current lodge and NPS management were above 80%. They think some impact is occurring on the summit’s natural resources, but they do not think the impact is severe. They wanted few, if any, changes to the number of people allowed at Mt. LeConte or to the services offered. Whenever those surveyed had the opportunity to choose "stay the same" as an option at least 60% of them chose that option. If the concessioner were allowed to increase the nightly visitor limits, the majority of survey participants would prefer a slight increase, rather than an increase to full capacity.

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