Design for Outdoor Recreation

What is recreation, and why is it important?

Outdoor recreation and its cousin, nature tourism, are the big growth areas in leisure and holiday activities today. As the populations of most Western countries become more urbanized, and as work becomes less and less connected with the land, many more people are seeking to regain a connection with nature and with wild landscapes. There are many reasons for visiting and exploring the great outdoors: physical exercise, release from the stresses of city life, fresh air, getting closer to nature, enjoyment of the scenery, hunting and fishing…the list goes on. For most people it is probably a combination of reasons. The trends in how people spend their time change from year to year, but contain broadly the same ingredients: a chance to escape from the city, to be alone, to be close to nature, and to relax and enjoy oneself. The activities that people pursue range from strenuous hiking into wild mountainous areas, days from the nearest settlement, to a gentle stroll in a park or woodland a short distance out of town, or just sitting and looking at the view.

‘The outdoors’ is an all-embracing term that covers all those places where people feel they can achieve that special feeling of being ‘away from it all’. To some, born and bred in the city, it may be an area of farmland a few steps away from home. Urban forests, increasingly common in Europe and North America, can provide opportunities for solitude and quietness well within the city limits. Other people may need to go further afield, such as to the emptier, less humandominated landscapes of the Scottish highlands, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, or the Black Forest of Germany. Further afield are the mountain ranges above the settled valleys of the Alps or Pyrenees, the fells of Lapland, or the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington, where a few hours’ hike from a road or village can take you into areas where nature dominates. Finally, there are truly wild, remote areas, accessible only by long hike, float plane or helicopter, boat or kayak, where civilization is utterly absent.

In most of these landscapes people can make their presence felt: creating paths and trails, leaving rubbish behind, lighting fires, disturbing wildlife, and damaging crops. Some areas are so fragile that it takes only a few visitors to damage plant life and cause erosion that takes decades to heal. Other areas are more robust, but are so attractive to visitors that they start to wear out under the sheer weight of numbers. Visitors need managing if landscapes, habitats and wildlife are to survive, and if the enjoyment and purpose of the visit are to be fulfilled. The places that we visit generally need some help in order to cope with the pressure that we place on them, and we need facilities to help our enjoyment. So we have to design and maintain a wide range of features in all but the wildest, remotest landscapes, where the absence of anything man-made is a key aspect of their attraction. We have to respect the landscapes we visit and avoid reducing their

essential character and spirit of place. This is the greatest challenge to the designers and managers of recreation sites: how to avoid spoiling the very qualities that people have come to visit, while providing the facilities that are so necessary to the enjoyment, safety and hygiene of the visitors and the physical protection of the immediate site. Much depends on the scale and vulnerability of the landscape in question. The Grand Canyon is hardly going to wear out, but a small valley and waterfall might be more delicate.

We do not come to recreation design from first principles. Visiting wild and scenic landscapes has quite a history. Many of the places, the existing facilities and the expectations of what a visit to the great outdoors should consist of are almost traditional. Some wonderful designs date from the nineteenth or early twentieth Century. Some of the best were created by the Civilian Conservation Corps for the National Parks Service in the USA in the 1930s. These are now part of the landscape, and have helped to establish a character or style for site and artefact design: generous scale, use of local materials, and a generally ‘rustic’ appearance. This is echoed in most countries, which have borrowed the idioms from each other. We should appreciate this lineage, and consider the history of outdoor recreation so that we are worthy heirs of a great tradition.

Both the publisher and author of this book wish to acknowledge financial assistance from Scottish Natural Heritage towards the costs of publication, which has helped to increase the level of illustration provided. Acknowledgement is also made for the use of advice on recreation management published by the former Countryside Commission for Scotland, one of SNH’s predecessor bodies.

This book is the fruit of a number of years spent working in and visiting places designed and managed for recreation, so my first debt of thanks is to all those who went before, creating and managing places where many people have enjoyed themselves in the outdoors. I hope they will look in a positive light on any criticism levelled at their work.

In particular, I must thank Duncan Campbell for his excellent and patient editing work on the early drafts. His comments turned often convoluted text and woolly explanation into much more clearly expressed prose. Dean Apostol also gave comments and help, as well as ferrying me about Mount Hood National Forest on my various trips to Oregon. Warren Bacon supplied me with numerous references and material on the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum and barrier-free access, while James Swabey supplied me with material for the Symonds Yat Case Study. The Forestry Commission allowed me to use slides from their collection, while Scottish Natural Heritage also helped with materials and new ideas on sustainable recreation. David Downie and Peter Ford lent me some photographs to fill important gaps. John McLoughlin showed me some of the interesting parts of Ireland. John McCurdy did the same in Northern Ireland, while Minna Komulainen, Airi Matila and Eeva Kuvulainen steered me in various directions for Finnish examples. Richard Broadhurst of the Forestry Commission was partly responsible for introducing the whole idea of designing a site from the visitor’s perspective, and was a helpful sounding board on visits to Denmark and Holland.

My family have put up with much: many holidays were partly spent photographing toilet blocks, signs and picnic sites, while the house became filled with papers, books and other paraphernalia. Finally, none of the book would have seen the light of day had not my wife, Jacquie, word processed it all.

Thank you all.

Simon Bell

Updated: September 23, 2015 — 11:57 am