Public lands management

Conducting surveys of recreation areas

When the Bureau of Land Management assesses user demand for recreation areas, it frequently turns to Peter Fix for help.

Fix, an associate professor of outdoor recreation management, has conducted surveys for BLM for 10 years. The work is part of a Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit collaboration between public agencies and universities. The unit that covers most of Alaska is coordinated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, under the direction of Fix.

Michelle Ethun, the assistant field manager for the Eastern Interior BLM field office, said the agency does not have the staff or expertise to conduct and analyze the on-site visitor surveys.

“It’s an extremely valuable tool for us,” she said. “We would not be able to get this data.”

Visitors raft on the Nenana River near Denali National Park. UAF photo by Todd Paris
Visitors raft on the Nenana River near Denali National Park. UAF photo by Todd Paris

She said BLM uses the visitor information for planning and to inform management decisions.

Fix and UAF students have conducted more than a dozen surveys of visitors to BLM-managed lands and scenic rivers near the Dalton, Steese, Denali and Taylor highways, the Iditarod Trail, and the Western Interior and Bering Sea areas. The surveys ask visitors about their travels, experiences and the perceived benefits of activities, which range from berry picking and hiking to hunting and gold panning. To better understand the economic impact of visitors, some surveyers ask them about their expenditures.

As part of a larger project, recreational and subsistence users will be surveyed this summer on public lands across Alaska, which will help agencies determine how visitors access public lands, whether the access is adequate for different stakeholders and how it can be improved.

“Hopefully it will lead to better planning for access in the region,” says Fix.


  • Fix leads a multistate team that is developing a survey guide that BLM will use at sites it manages across the nation. 
  • The Interior BLM collaboration has led to summer internships for UAF students the past three years.