Economics of Outdoor Recreation

Science Center Objects

Economic research at Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center is used to determine economic benefits of outdoor recreation in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area below Glen Canyon Dam and in Grand Canyon National Park, as affected by operation of Glen Canyon Dam. This research identifies recreationists’ preferences for attributes associated with their trips, spending that occurs regionally, and the net economic benefit to recreationists. To accomplish this research objective, surveys of recreationists are used to collect information. This material is necessary for the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, federal, and state decision-makers to make informed choices about the economic tradeoffs that occur, with regard to recreation, when evaluating resource management actions in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park.

Anglers departing the boat dock at Lees Ferry, AZ with canyon walls in the background.

Anglers departing the boat dock at Lees Ferry, AZ.

(Credit: Lucas Bair, USGS. )

Background & Importance

The Grand Canyon Protection Act (GCPA) of 1992 states that, “long-term monitoring of Glen Canyon Dam shall include any necessary research and studies to determine the effect of the Secretary's actions under section 1804(c) on the…recreational…resources of Grand Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area” (GCPA, sec. 1805(b)). Since 1987, researchers have known there is a relationship between dam operations and recreational preferences and economic values related to angling in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (GCNRA) and whitewater rafting in Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP). Nearly 30 years have passed since the 1987 study of regional recreational expenditures and preferences for and economic values of releases at Glen Canyon Dam. The characteristics of recreational resources have changed significantly since this research was conducted. Specifically, alteration of diurnal flow patterns and greater whitewater floating opportunities resulting from The Operation of Glen Canyon Dam, Record of Decision, and the Colorado River Management Plan, respectively, have changed the whitewater floating experience. The angling experience has also changed in Glen Canyon since the 1987 study as a result of fluctuations in catch rates and fish condition and modifications to angling regulations.

Because it is important to understand the potential effects of dam operations on the recreational experiences in GCNRA and GCNP, there is a need to update and extend the original 1987 study. Undoubtedly, this research will contribute to a primary Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (GCDAMP) goal, which is to “maintain or improve the quality of recreational experiences for users of the Colorado River ecosystem, within the framework of the GCDAMP ecosystem goals”.

General Methods

Anglers departing the boat dock at Lees Ferry, AZ with rafts.

Anglers on rafts departing the boat dock at Lees Ferry, AZ.

(Credit: Lucas Bair, USGS. )

The objective of this research is to determine preferences, regional expenditures, and economic values of anglers in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (GCNRA) and whitewater rafters in Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP), as affected by operation of Glen Canyon Dam (GCD), to provide the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (GCDAMP), federal, and state agencies with information for decision making. To accomplish the project objective, a series of economic surveys are being conducted to obtain current information on recreationists’ preferences, expenditures, and economic values associated with angler and whitewater rafter trips.

Specifically, angler and whitewater rafter surveys gather:

  • regional expenditures associated with trip activities such as the cost of transportation, lodging, guide services, and various other local purchases;
  • trip attributes of importance such as size of beaches, fish catch rates, and other trip qualities;
  • direct recreational use value (i.e., net economic benefit), as measured by willingness to pay to take a trip, over and above trip costs; and
  • variation in direct recreational use value as related to a range of Colorado River flow levels.

As was the case with the original 1987 study, the project will use a mail survey contact method. The respondents will be sent a mail survey packet. Statistical models appropriate for the experimental design and elicitation format of the surveys will be developed to evaluate the relationship between preferences, economic value and trip attributes (e.g., Colorado River flow levels). The models will provide information on the relative preferences and economic value for trip attributes and the marginal rates of substitution between trip attributes. This information is necessary for the GCDAMP to make informed decisions about the economic tradeoffs that occur, with regard to recreation, when evaluating future management actions in GCNRA and GCNP.

For More Background Information

Bishop, R.C., Boyle, K.J., Welsh, M.P., Baumgartner, R.M., and Rathbun, P.R., 1987, Glen Canyon Dam releases and downstream recreation--an analysis of user preferences and economic values: Madison, Wisc., Huberlein-Baumgartner Research Service, submitted to Bureau of Reclamation, Upper Colorado Region, Glen Canyon Environmental Studies report no. GCES/27/87, 188 p. [Available from National Technical Information Service, Springfield, Va. as NTIS report PB88-182546/AS.]  http://www.gcmrc.gov/library/reports/cultural/Recreation/Bishop1987.pdf.    

Several people on the banks of the Paria River with tall canyon walls nearby.

Anglers on the banks of the Paria River, a tributary of the Colorado River.

(Credit: Lucas Bair, USGS. )

Bureau of Reclamation, 1996, Record of decision on the operation of Glen Canyon Dam--final environmental impact statement: Salt Lake City, Utah, Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, UC-326 ENV-6.00, 15 p., accessed on July 22, 2011, at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/amp/pdfs/sp_appndxG_ROD.pdf.

Grand Canyon Protection Act. 1992. https://www.usbr.gov/uc/legal/gcpa1992.html.

Loomis, J.B., Douglas, A.J., and Harpman, D.A., 2005, Recreation use values and nonuse values at Glen and Grand Canyon--chapter 9, in Gloss, S.P., Lovich, J.E., and Melis, T.S., eds., The state of the Colorado River ecosystem in Grand Canyon----a report of the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center 1991-2004: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1282, 153-164 p., http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1282/.

National Park Service, 2006, Colorado River management plan: Grand Canyon, Arizona, Department of the Interior, Grand Canyon National Park, Office of Planning and Compliance. https://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/management/crmp.htm.

U.S. Geological Survey, 2006, Strategic science plan to support the Glen Canyon Dam adaptive management program--Fiscal years 2007-11: U.S. Geological Survey, Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, in cooperation with the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (GCDAMP), 11 p., http://www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/amp/amwg/mtgs/06dec05/Attach_07b.pdf.