Skip to main content
Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2003

More visitors, less crowding: Change and stability of norms over time at the Apostle Islands

Kuentzel, WF; Heberlein, TA


Most recreation carrying capacity management is informed by cross-sectional research. But, what happens when visitor composition and perceptions change? This study used a longitudinal design to examine the relationships between changing visitor characteristics, behaviors, normative standards, and perceived crowding at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Annual visitors more than doubled between 1975 and 1985, yet the perception of crowding among boaters decreased. This was due to a change in the norm: Boaters in 1985 preferred more encounters. This increasing preference for encounters was largely unexplained by changes in the visitor population, most notably a 34% increase in visitors who chartered sailboats. Between 1985 and 1997, preferences for encounters remained stable, but perceived crowding increased as the boater population aged, boat ownership increased, and visitor experience increased. None of these changes in the visitor population, however, influenced preferred encounters. One hypothesis to explain these processes of norm change and stability is that norms follow use levels, which if correct would challenge the use of norms in capacity determinations. An alternative hypothesis is that boating in the Apostle Islands was a new activity in this place, and that norms were being established during the first period and applied during the second. Our data show that one cannot assume crowding perceptions will increase as visitor numbers increase. Neither can one expect crowding perceptions to remain stable if visitor numbers are constant. Consequently, developing capacities based on a normative model requires continual monitoring of both norms and perceived crowding.


aging; chartering; encounter preferences; longitudinal data; norms; perceived crowding; trends

Published in

Journal of Leisure Research
2003, volume: 35, number: 4, pages: 349-371

Authors' information

Kuentzel, Walter F.
University of Vermont
Heberlein, Thomas
University of Wisconsin-Madison

UKÄ Subject classification

Sociology (excluding Social work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Forest Science

URI (permanent link to this page)