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Outdoor recreation and tourism resources contribute significantly to local and regional economies, and residents’ and visitors’ quality of life.  Consequently, important stakeholders and constituencies closely follow, debate, and sometimes scrutinize managers’ and policy officials’ decisions regarding outdoor recreation, education, and tourism. Those charged with managing outdoor recreation, education, and tourism activities and resources often need defensible, timely, and cost-effective evidence to inform and ultimately defend their decisions.  Using applied research results to inform outdoor recreation, education, and tourism decisions has become standard practice and integral to ensuring that high quality experiences and outcomes are responsibly developed and maintained.  


  1. Provide decision-makers with timely, cost-effective, and defensible evidence to inform their most important decisions.
  2. Develop, disseminate, and catalogue knowledge, publications, and applied solutions to issues regarding outdoor recreation, education, and tourism.

Current and Previous Research Partners

  • The U.S. National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Utah State Parks
  • The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), the American Camp Association, and the Natural History Museum of Utah
  • The International Ecotourism Society, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and the World Travel and Tourism Council

About Our Research

The research team at ORET works closely with each partner to provide tailored services prescriptive to particular agencies, problems, and contexts. We use mixed methods research, including but not limited to:

  • Infrared trail and traffic counting
  • GPS tracking of recreationists and tourists to determine spatial and temporal distributions of use
  • Evaluation of outdoor recreationists’ and tourists’ monetary expenditures
  • Questionnaires, interviews, and collaborative public meetings
  • Time-lapsed photography
  • Outdoor recreation and tourism demand assessments

Assessments of certification and guidelines for best practice approaches to management and development

Research Products

  • Workshops to integrate results
  • Presentations to boards, legislative bodies, and associated partners
  • Defensible technical reports and research summaries
  • Baseline or updated maps and data
  • Peer-reviewed publications

Specialized Services

ORET helps decision-makers evaluate and understand


Outdoor Recreation and Tourism

  • Spatial and temporal distributions of use
  • Monetary expenditures
  • Motivations and benefits
  • Health-oriented outcomes
  • Perceptions of climate change
  • Recreation and tourism supply and demand
  • Certification and guidelines to improve product and development
  • Transportation routing and planning
  • Community tourism planning and development

Park and Protected Area Management

  • Park visitation and health outcomes
  • Carrying capacity
  • Sign placement and content
  • Visitor support for potential management action
  • Visitor impacts to physical and social systems
  • Modeling potential visitor behavior and travel patterns in response to management action
  • Environmental interpretation
  • Perceptions of climate change
  • Impacts of ecotourism in adjacent communities and near parks
  • Transportation and route planning

Outdoor Adventure Programming and Education

  • Evaluation plan development and implementation
  • Outcome evaluation
  • Program quality assessment
  • Questionnaire development

Faculty Researchers


Research Partnerships

  • The Arctic University of Norway
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Center for Ecological Planning and Design
  • Global Change and Sustainability Center at the University of Utah
  • Jordan River Commission
  • Natural History Museum of Utah
  • The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)
  • Salt Lake City
  • Tracy Aviary
  • Taft-Nicholson Center for Environmental Humanities
  • Utah State Parks
  • Utah Department of Natural Resources: Off-Highway Vehicle Program
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • U.S. National Park Service
  • Wasatch Backcountry Alliance

Areas of Research

  • Benefits of Natural Areas to Veterans
  • Outdoor Adventure Education
  • Parks & Protected Areas Management
  • Restorative Environments
  • Environmental and Societal Impacts of Tourism and Recreation
  • Winter Recreation/Tourism

About Our Researchers

The Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Tourism Lab (ORET) research team is situated in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism at the University of Utah is comprised of accomplished Ph.D. researchers who hold diverse expertise and practical experience in all areas related to ORET Lab’s mission, goals, and services.

Jim Sibthorp, PhD

Dr. Sibthorp teaches courses on youth programming, outdoor education, and research design and analysis. Jim’s current research focuses on youth development through outdoor and adventure programming. Through his work with both the American Camp Association (ACA) and the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Jim continues to design, implement, and translate studies that bridge research and practice. Jim has written extensively on topics involving outdoor and adventure education and regularly publishes in the Journal of Leisure ResearchLeisure Sciences, and the Journal of Experiential Education. He is a coauthor (with Alan Ewert) of Outdoor Adventure Education: Foundations, Theory, and Research, which was published in 2014. He currently serves on the Research Advisory Council for the Coalition for Education in the Outdoors and the Editorial Advisory Committee for the Association of Experiential Education. More Researcher Information

Contact the ORET Lab

The Outdoor Recreation, Education, & Tourism Lab

Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism
250 South 1850 East
Room 239, HPER North
Salt Lake City, UT 84112

Phone: 801-581-8542