Monday, March 12, 2012

On the Edge XII: What do People Say? 1977 and 2003

The 1978 document justifying the NPS decision to put the GCNP parking/reception facility at Mather Point listed some results from a 1977 attitude survey conducted by the Park-affiliated Grand Canyon Natural History Association. There were 10 questions; three of the more interesting showed that 83% liked the idea of a parking area combined with a shuttle; 75% wanted parking within walking distance of the rim; 69% said a parking area "several miles from the village" would be equally acceptable. The conclusions only more firmly convinced the planners that no more studies were needed.

I recently learned, thanks to the sharp eye of Mrill Ingram, about a website, the Visitor Services Project sponsored by the University of Idaho and the NPS Social Science Program; at that has collected together survey results from a great number of NPS sites, some 280 project records at this point. (The site requires signing in and various other hoops.) They range from 1988 to the present day. The Grand Canyon surveys were done in 2003, at the South and the North Rims, and use of the results requires this acknowledgment: "Data originated from the University of Idaho Park Studies Unit, Visitor Services Project. Database creation is supported by funding from the National Park Service, Social Science Division, and from individual National Park Service units."
The two surveys are not comparable in statistical validity. The 1978 questionnaire was an insert in the informational newsletter handed out at the time. There were about 3100 returned, and ~800 were taken as a sample. The 2003 survey distributed 1000 questionnaires to willing participants, and received 735 back. 

One surprise to me, in that June 2003, less than 1 out of 10 visitors were "international". More in line with expectations, 2 out of 3 were first timers, and for 3 out of 4, Mather was most visited. One out of three took a walk, overwhelmingly along the rim trail, although maybe 1 out of 5 went below the rim.

Overwhelmingly, the car remains the transportation of choice in the Park. However, the 2003 suvey found that a third of these were rental cars, implying many visitors flew to some point. In 1977, half the survey used the free shuttle; in 2003, the results imply that 43% did, with over half the users using it 4 or more times. Again, about half in 1977 stayed in or fairly near the Park; the percentage seems to have decreased a bit in 2003. (That lack of overlap in the two questionnaires' questions and computations is not surprising, I suppose.)

In 1977, 28% were bothered by parking/congestion. In 2003, parking ranked lowest in quality of visitor services, though still above average. In that year, for those who used the shuttle, 75% called it "extremely important", about 30% of the whole sample. It would be relevant to re-do this survey today to see if the new parking at reception has altered this. Even in 2003, the parking quality was rated adequate by the overwhelming number, only 12% calling it below average. The shuttles were rated even higher, with 85% approval compared to 65%. Moreover, the shuttle was the most frequently mentioned (one-fourth of respondents) item when people were asked what they most enjoyed.

In 1977, these were the responses to questions about future parking/shuttle options:
Yes to parking outside but near village, with shuttle:  83%
Yes to being within walking distance of rim:   75%
Yes, even if parking several miles from village:   69%

In 2003, 69% was still the percentage willing to park and ride.  However, in 1977, 69% said "no" to paying $1/day for a shuttle, and in 2003, half would not pay "up to $15" per person for a combined entrance/shuttle fee. The fee/car today is $25.

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