What activities are visitors participating in on refuges and how satisfied are they with their experiences? How much are they spending in the local community as part of their refuge visit?

For the past year, Friends have been assisting with an effort to find the answers to these and other questions. The National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Survey took place from July 2010 through July 2011 on 53 refuges across the country, from Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge in Hawaii to Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge in Puerto Rico.

The survey, conducted by the Policy Analysis and Science Assistance Branch of U.S. Geological Survey on behalf of the Refuge System Division of Visitor Services and Communications, provides refuge managers, planners, and visitor services specialists with a better understanding of:

  • who visitors are according to such characteristics as their home locations, distance travelled, time spent on refuges;

  • their opinions about the refuge they visited, from recreational opportunities to services provided by staff and volunteers;

  • their associated spending in nearby communities; and

  • what they thought about larger issues, including alternative transportation and communications about climate change.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, FL
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, FL.
Credit: Steve Hillebrand

USGS is creating individual refuge–specific reports, which will be available online later this fall.

A teleconference and WebEx meeting are being offered to refuges interested in discussing their results and Friends may participate. The Friends of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico has already scheduled a public presentation in the Socorro City Council chambers to highlight how refuge visitation benefits the surrounding community.

More than 250 Friends members and refuge staff were instrumental in asking nearly 15,000 visitors on site to participate in the survey. These invaluable “survey recruiters” ensured that visitors understood the purpose of the survey and encouraged them to complete the survey when they returned home. The response rate was an overwhelming 71 percent.

Preliminary results indicate that nearly 90 percent of visitors find their refuge experience unique compared to other public lands they have visited. Visitors tend to appreciate their refuge experiences, with at least 90 percent satisfied with the opportunities and services provided.

Plans are underway to survey visitors on 22 other refuges in 2012. In the meantime, a national report is being prepared that will provide a comprehensive look at the data for all refuges in the study. The report will track status and trends of visitors and their experiences over time, especially in light of the Refuge System’s Conserving the Future vision.

Natalie Sexton is in the Policy Analysis & Science Assistance Branch of the U.S. Geological Survey.

National Elk Refuge, WY
National Elk Refuge, WY.
Credit: USFWS