Parks Solutions Lab - 01

Matthew Brownlee (standing) explains issues with camera placement in national parks to undergraduate student Brittany Lacy (left) while Cassidy Jones observes.
Image Credit: College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences

CLEMSON — Clemson University faculty have established the Park Solutions Lab to study the social aspects and human dimensions of issues related to parks and protected areas. The lab will allow faculty to benefit from a physical space that will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of capturing data related to visitor use and human-environment interactions.

Wayne Freimund, chair of Clemson’s parks, recreation and tourism management department, said its increased research productivity in this area made a physical lab space a natural next step. Freimund’s own research interests lie in monitoring park visitor use and experience, so he is excited to see what advantages the lab provides to department faculty.

“The faculty members in our department concerned with this area of research are highly sought after for their knowledge and expertise and they have accomplished a great deal operating independently,” Freimund said. “We want to give them even more tools to collaborate and make Clemson a destination for the type of work that informs policy and practice in parks.”

The lab, located in Barre Hall, combines a meeting and teleconferencing room with a dedicated space for the computing power tailored to applications used in faculty research, including geographic information system (GIS) tracking.

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Brittany Lacy looks on as Matthew Brownlee uses the Park Solutions Lab’s GIS tracking software.
Image Credit: College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences

GIS allows researchers to track the movement of park visitors from the time they leave home to the time they return home and all activities in between. All travel data to and from parks and movement related to activities such as hiking or biking contribute to representative sampling that extends results to a park’s larger population of visitors.

Matthew Brownlee, assistant professor of parks and conservation area management, joined the department in fall 2017. Much of the funded research he conducts takes advantage of GIS tracking. He said Clemson’s reputation in this area of research and the opportunity to work alongside other researchers in an environment like the parks lab was a large part of what attracted him to the university.

“Federal land-management agencies need to engage in planning processes and those plans need to be backed by data because the lands are entrusted to the government by citizens,” Brownlee said. “The parks lab at Clemson can play a large part in helping parks make informed, defensible decisions going forward.”

Brownlee’s research provides information to help park and protected area professionals manage visitor experiences. He examines park visitor behavior and park capacities as well as people’s interactions with and attachments to climate-sensitive and climate-impacted environments.

Brownlee said it’s difficult now for researchers in this area to go without a GIS component, so he expects to spend a great deal of time in the parks lab alongside the graduate student researchers that he currently works with on National Science Foundation-funded research.

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In the lab’s teleconferencing and meeting room, Matthew Brownlee provides details on different groups of visitors at Buffalo National River segmented by their past visitation history, a current project he is undertaking with the National Park Service.
Image Credit: College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences

“There is a great need in our society for research that provides recommendations based on data for how federal land should be used,” Brownlee said. “This lab allows Clemson to demonstrate an increased capacity to make those recommendations.”

Robert Powell is the George B. Hartzog Jr. Endowed Professor in Philosophy, Parks and Environmental Ethics and also serves as director of Clemson’s Institute for Parks. Powell’s research and that of the institute are concerned with the social and behavioral issues that are important to park managers.

While Powell does not have a current need for the parks lab’s GIS capabilities, the computing power in the lab will support the statistical modeling of large data sets that drive his own research.

“We have needed lab space for park and conservation social science as our research in this area has continued to expand,” Powell said. “The Parks Solutions Lab provides the technological support and collaborative space to support large, externally funded projects; this is a great development for the institute, the department and for Clemson University as a whole.”