- Chase, Lisa
University of Vermont
Recreation and tourism in the Northern Forest have a long history of contributing to the economy, influencing the culture of local communities, and impacting the natural environment. Although many rural communities are quick to embrace tourism for its perceived economic benefits, concerns exist regarding negative social and environmental impacts and inequitable distribution of economic benefits. An improved understanding of the opportunities and threats associated with rural tourism can help communities design tourism plans that are consistent with their goals and visions for the future.
1. We conducted participatory modeling workshops in six communities in the Northern Forest, with two sites in New Hampshire, two in Vermont, and two in New York. Follow-up workshops were held in selected communities.
2. With guidance from experienced facilitators and modelers, workshop participants created computer models that describe recreation and tourism issues in their communities.
3. We combined components of the six community models to create a general model that can serve as a base model for Northern Forest communities. We tested the general model in one community.
4. We evaluated the model for its utility as a decision-making aid, and we evaluated the modeling processes for their impacts on building community capacity.
Evaluation results indicate that the model has potential to help communities make informed decisions about tourism development, however the base model requires additional inputs and the user-friendly interface needs to be further refined. Although the model itself needs to be further developed, the modeling process has already had positive impacts including strengthening relationships, promoting systems thinking, and helping to build consensus. One of the most interesting results was a shift in thinking regarding “quality of life.” When workshop discussions began, participants were focused on how to increase tourism. As the workshops progressed, community members shifted their focus to implications and trade-offs of this development, and discussed how different options would be best for their communities’ overall welfare. This shift in thinking led to a model representing quality of life, as defined by community members.
Implications for the Northern Forest Region:
A STELLA computer model with a user-friendly interface and step-by-step manual is now available for communities in the Northern Forest to examine tourism and recreation issues. While future research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the model for decision-making, the process has been shown to be useful for fostering dialogue, gaining new perspectives, and building consensus.