Researchers Study Park Visitors at String and Leigh Lakes

Photo Credit: Grand Teton National Park


MOOSE, WY- Grand Teton National Park managers are learning from research and field staff observations to improve visitor use management and provide high-quality visitor experiences in the popular String and Leigh lakes area. Social scientists from Oregon State, Penn State, and Utah State universities are nearing completion of a two-year study to better understand visitor use, experience, and behaviors in this scenic area as well as the related resource impacts.

Informed by research data collected in 2017 as well as observations made by the String Lake volunteer crew, park managers made minor changes to the String Lake area earlier this summer. A new mobile information trailer is staffed periodically by the volunteer crew to relay information to visitors. Parking areas and travel lanes were re-striped to improve the clarity of legal parking areas and ensure emergency access, and signage was improved to provide visitors with clear directions. These changes were made to improve the visitor experience.
The results from the 2017 data collection effort can be found in a technical report at Many of the key findings provide quantifiable data for trends that were previously understood only through anecdotal evidence. For example, the report shows peak visitation occurs between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and parking usually spills onto the roadside around noon. Researchers also found that visitation along the east shore of String Lake has created 51,000 square feet, or about one football field, of disturbed vegetation and compacted soil.
Given the high density of visitor use on the east shore of String Lake, study technicians also recorded ‘behaviors of interest’ in this area. These include any person breaking park regulations, violating Leave No Trace principles, or engaging in behavior that may negatively affect another visitor’s experience. The most frequently observed behaviors of interest were improper food storage, making loud human-caused noise, hiking off-trail, and lacking a visible personal flotation device while on a watercraft.
In addition to the quantitative data collection, researchers conducted qualitative interviews with visitors to the area and found that nearly half reported being crowded. Interestingly, many visitors reported changing the time of their visit in response to crowding. Others reported moving from Jenny Lake to String Lake, and from String Lake to Leigh Lake in response to crowded conditions.
Researchers also asked visitors about the reasons for their visit to String Lake. The primary motivations visitors mentioned included enjoying nature, solitude, relaxation, and quiet. The warm water temperature, being together with friends and family, and safety also plays a prominent role in people’s desire to visit.
After data collection is completed this summer, a final report will be presented to park managers in spring 2019. Managers will use the information to make future management decisions in the String and Leigh lakes area.