The Recreation Opportunity Spectrum

The ROS takes as its major premise the fact that recreation is more than just the activity, such as hiking, fishing and camping, in which people participate. It also includes the quality of the specific setting in which that activity takes place. This was alluded to in the introduction, and may seem to be common sense. Yet to incorporate this concept will not only raise the standard of experience gained by people but will help the designer and manager to refine the match of activities to appropriate landscape zones in space and time and avoid any conflicts that otherwise may arise. The concept therefore deserves further consideration.

The spectrum is one of recreational experience correlated to the type of landscape

setting where that experience is most likely to be fulfilled. It ranges from the experience

of solitude allied to a sense of challenge, some risk taking and the feeling of being self reliant, to the other extreme of feeling secure, comfortable and having a chance to socialize with other people. The spectrum is then divided into six categories, which describe the degree to which these experiences can be achieved. The terminology is chosen to be compatible with other aspects of land and resource management planning carried out in the US Forest Service. The names are not as important as the qualities that they are meant to convey. Each category can be broken down into three components: the activities most suitable, the character of the setting, and the expected experience to be gained.

The categories are summarized as follows.

1. Primitive: that is, natural areas unmodified by human activity and large enough so that visitors can find solitude and feel close to nature. The remoteness means that one has to be self reliant, using back-country survival skills, and thus experience challenge and some risk. The activities are all those using muscle power and basic equipment.

2. Semi-primitive, non-motorized. In this category are factors such as size of area, degree of human intervention or chance of meeting other people, which reduces slightly the primitive experience of the first category. Minimal site controls may be needed, but the overall experience should be similar to primitive. The same activities are appropriate.

3. Semi-primitive, motorized. This is essentially the same as the previous category, but because motorized activities such as motorboats, snow-mobiles or all-terrain vehicles are allowed, the qualities of quietness and absence of disturbance are likely to be impaired.

4. Roaded, natural. This category is mainly natural in character, although management activities may be present, and there will be more evidence of use, including roads that provide easier access. The experience will be some solitude and some social interaction but risk taking and self-reliance aspects will be reduced in importance.

5. Rural. This is where human activities start to dominate over the natural character, although the landscape contains significant natural components. Thus solitude and closeness to nature are highly compromised, and there is little scope for risk taking or using backwoods skills. There is more chance to socialize, and as use is more concentrated there is a need for more facilities.

6. Urban. The widest range of activities are possible but the setting is more or less completely dominated by human activities, and generally constitutes an urbanized environment. Consequently a large amount of design and management is required, as well as many facilities. The setting makes solitude difficult to accomplish although by good design and management some representation of this element may be possible.

The need to find challenge and risk is not apparent in most users’ minds.

This brief resume of the ROS shows that it is possible to zone the landscape into the various categories depending on the settings present. Thus in many US national forests there will be everything from wilderness providing the primitive setting down to at least the roaded rural if not the urban setting. In Europe it may not be possible to have such a range in many countries. In the Netherlands—one of the most densely populated and managed landscapes—the major categories are probably rural and urban. However, it is possible to develop a miniature ROS within a land area by careful design and management. For example, in the Amsterdamse Bos—the city forest to the south of Amsterdam—the layout of the forest is such that even on busy days when certain areas are crowded it is possible to walk or cycle to empty places, with a good chance of feeling alone and close to nature. Of course, the sense of self-reliance is missing, and this landscape is far from being natural, but it is the relative degree of naturalness compared with other elements in a particular setting that is important.

A further use of the ROS is to help determine the amount and types of facilities and artefacts provided in each category, as these also affect the experience. For example, a primitive setting does not call for paved paths, which would be out of keeping and make it appear ‘tame’. The general rule is that in the primitive area, only work to protect the site should be undertaken without any facilities being provided. Any materials should be local to the site so that they can blend in completely. If necessary, the semi-primitive, non-motorized areas can have some rudimentary facilities, but these should be rustic in nature and use locally native and natural materials. For the semi-primitive, motorized areas more site protection is probably needed, and more facilities could be appropriate, as many people will make their way into the landscape in a vehicle rather than hike in. The

The Recreation Opportunity Spectrum

The Recreation Opportunity Spectrum relating activities, settings and facility designs together to provide the optimum experience. (Courtesy Warren Bacon).

roaded natural and the rural areas are likely to require more facilities than either of the semi-primitive categories. As a reflection of the more managed character of the rural landscape, these facilities can be more highly finished, but should nevertheless aim to use natural materials and finishes as much as possible. In the urban setting there is nothing wrong with any of the previous levels of provision if the situation warrants it, but more facilities will be necessary to deal with greater demand, higher visitor expectation of ease of use and comfort, as well as provision for more formal activities. More robust artefacts may also be appropriate to stand up to the wear and tear and possibly vandalism.

The ROS can also be used to assess the amount of intervention necessary to minimize the impacts of visitors on the landscape habitats and wildlife. Ideally, the primitive areas should have a low, well-distributed use, while the urban areas can have high, concentrated use. However, sometimes wear and tear occurs that needs repair. Outside the most sensitive areas, where it may be appropriate to discourage access, the emphasis should not be on trying to prevent any impacts but on considering how much change can be allowed and what actions are appropriate for controlling it. This approach has been developed into a concept called limits of acceptable change, in which a range of people, including managers, experts in the landscape and ecology, and users, decide what change, if any, can be allowed. Some of the actions will be managerial, such as closing areas to allow them time to recover, and others will relate to design, such as provision of paths and boardwalks.

For the designer, the ROS can help to determine the framework for the range, type and number of facilities and artefacts. It is another way of helping to develop the brief and for evaluating the design ideas put forward to meet its requirements.