Expanding the toolbox: Assessing methods for local outdoor recreation planning

How to cite this study

Komossa, F., Wartmann, F.M. and Verburg, P.H. 2021. Expanding the toolbox: Assessing methods for local outdoor recreation planning. Landscape and Urban Planning 212 (2021), 104105.


This study analyzes how different data collection methods can support local recreation planning. Data is compared on current land use (land already used by outdoor recreationists) and the potential use (land that is not used by outdoor recreationists) through participatory mapping, free listing, photo ranking, and analysis of social media data. Local planners were interviewed to assess how applicable the different methods are in practice. Results show the potential and challenges for different research methods to be incorporated into local planning practices to manage outdoor recreation hotspots effectively.


This study is relevant to those interested in understanding the benefits and challenges associated with different data collection methods for local and recreational planning. The study covers several research methods while discussing the limitations of each approach in the seven semi-structured interviews. This information may be useful to leaders in deciding which form of data collection is best given time, money, and other resource constraints.


This study is located in the Netherlands in the Kromme Rijn area.

Trail Type

This study covers peri-urban land, which is land used for multiple purposes such as agriculture, urban development, and outdoor recreation.


The purpose of this study was to analyze how different data collection methods can support local planning in outdoor recreation in peri-urban lands. Funding is not listed.


  • The map for potential recreation created with the free listing data shows high visual landscape attractiveness in the Langbroek area and the map produced with the photo ranking shows high perceived landscape attractiveness along the river Lek in the south of Kromme Rijn. 
  • The photo ranking reveals that respondents most prefer landscape elements of rivers and water, then forests, and then cultural heritage elements. The least preferred elements were farm and agricultural lands. The five most salient categories from the open-ended responses are “tranquility,” “water,” “nature,” “forest,” and “green.” 
  • During interviews, local planners indicated that they were largely unaware of the advances in scientific research related to landscape management such as using geotagged social media as a data source, and would likely lack the resources to access it. This indicates a need to enhance communication and collaboration between researchers and practitioners. 
  • The reliability of the participatory mapping was questioned by the local planners, as not all hiking trails may be noted; however, planners noted that on a smaller scale, such as a park, this method may be useful in identifying hotspots. 
  • Local planners cited the social media map as the best for representing areas highly attractive for recreationists.
  • In the map produced by participatory mapping, the hotspots are less clearly identified than in the free listing-generated map. One of the challenges of using free listing to elicit landscape preferences is that the results may be difficult to operationalize for spatial analysis. For example, highly salient terms such as “green” or “tranquility” are not self-evidently captured in maps.
  • Intensely used areas of the landscape do not align well with perceived landscape attractiveness, suggesting that use is related to proximity to cities, accessibility, land ownership, presence of recreational facilities, landscape preferences, and socio-economic profile of recreationists.


A survey was conducted in Kromme Rijn between October-November 2016 and May-June 2018 with 401 participants. The survey included an assessment of both the current use of the land and potential recreational use through participatory mapping, quantitative photo ranking, and free listing. Participatory mapping asked participants to indicate the locations of their recreational activities for that day and use a different pen to indicate the areas that they valued most in terms of the landscape’s aesthetic appearance. Maps were then digitized in ArcGIS. 

Since mapping by itself does not show the specific reasons for why some areas are perceived as aesthetically pleasing, free listing and photo ranking were also used to determine new potential outdoor recreational land. Participants ranked landscape photos with features such as cultural heritage, sights, agricultural lands, marshes, rivers, forests, and more. The top five preferences were translated into maps by mapping the presence or absence of the landscape elements in spatial data. Free listing asked, “What does the landscape of the Kromme Rijn area offer you as a recreationist?” and respondents listed all terms that came to mind. The top five terms were translated into spatial indicators on the map. 671 outdoor recreation photos from 200 different users on Flickr were filtered and downloaded. For each 10x10m on the map, the total number of unique user uploads was calculated to determine current recreation use. Finally, seven semi-structured interviews were conducted with stakeholders from regional and local governments and environmental organizations to collect their views on current and future issues relating to outdoor recreation and their data collection methods.

Added to library on November 27, 2023