Park Management Plans: Understanding Visitor and Tourism Policy
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A park management plan is an important tool used in protected areas to successfully develop and achieve goals and objectives. Planning in modern protected area environments is challenging due to the requirement of finding the balance between its primary goal of preserving ecological and cultural features while managing to achieve tourism and visitation objectives. There are different perspectives regarding the purpose of a management plan and the role that the public should play in having an influence over the decision making process, including access to information required. This study evaluated the amount of detail in visitor and tourism policies that was found in park management plans compared to the amount of detail that park stakeholders desired, revealed through a case study of Ontario Provincial Parks. Findings include: a consistently low level of detail provided in park management plans; a large gap between the larger amount degree of detail desired by stakeholders’ compared to the sparse detail contained in plans; and a significant difference in the degree of detail desired by stakeholders affiliated with one park, Algonquin Park, over others. The low level of detail contained in management plans can be a reflection of five elements: 1) a low value of visitation and tourism, 2) a blueprint planning goal of management plans, 3) a weak role of the public in decision making, 4) sparse human resources/finances, and 5) imprecise legislation and guiding provincial policy. The large gap between the detail stakeholders desire compared to the content provided in plans reflect weak public participation and governance principles such as transparency, accountability, and fairness and power sharing. Lastly, differences in the degree of detail desired based on park affiliation suggest that park features, beside park classification and park visitation levels, also have an effect on the degree of detail expected from park stakeholders.