Studying Human Behavior at Big Four Ice Caves
The Forest Service and Baylor University have teamed up to see how they can improve visitor experience and safety on this popular trail.
The Big Four Ice Caves trail is a great family hike. Short and relatively flat, it offers a taste of Washington's natural wonders. In the summer months, the trail ends at a viewpoint of naturally formed ice caves. These ice caves are beautiful and intriguing, but they are also unstable. Falling and collapsing ice has led to a number of very serious injuries and deaths.
Last spring, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest entered into a collaborative project with Baylor University to explore new ways to improve visitor experience and visitor safety on the Big Four Ice Caves trail.
What has been studied thus far?
Starting in March, the research team conducted a number of phone interviews and focus groups. The goal: to better understand people's past experiences at the ice caves, impressions of safety concerns on the trail and what kind of information they felt should be included in signs used to warn visitors of dangers in the area.
Next, experts in areas of park interpretation, messaging and park design provided recommendations for messaging strategies and trail design used specifically for visitor safety.
During the month of August, the height of hiking season, graduate research assistants collected data from visitors for 21 days. On each day they changed the type of signs, design and content that visitors encountered on the trail. Then they followed up with a questionnaire.
From those data, researchers were able to determine:
- What percentage of visitors engage in risk behavior near, on, or in the ice caves.
- Who is going into the caves (male/female, age, level of education, history at the ice caves and prior outdoor experience)?
- Visitors’ perceptions of the dangers associated with the ice caves and perceptions about their ability to control those dangers.
- The effect of different signage strategies on risk behavior.
- The effect of different signage strategies on how friends, family, other visitors judge risk behavior.
- The effect of signage strategy on the quality of the experience of the visitor.
How you can help
The research team needs your help with the final phase of this study to help the forest improve the visitor experience and visitor safety on the Big Four Ice Caves trail. In addition, there are other areas and trails like the Big Four Ice Caves that are easily accessible, experience high visitation and draw hikers with a wide range of experience levels and outdoor knowledge. Your feedback will help determine the best way to communicate and educate while providing a quality experience.
For the final stage of this study, the public is being asked to watch an 8-10 minute video and complete a survey. This survey will be open until December 15.
Findings from this study should be release in mid-Spring 2018.
Who is involved in the study
The primary researcher overseeing this study is Dr. Kelli McMahan. Her colleague Dr. Chris Wynveen is assisting her with the project. They are both professors in the College of Health and Human Services, in the department of Health Human Performance and Recreation at Baylor University. In addition, Dr. Gary Ellis is serving as a research and statistical consultant. The researchers organized and consulted with a natural history interpretation design team that was made up of faculty from Baylor, Texas A&M and staff from Museum Studies at Baylor University. Two graduate students in the public health program at Baylor University provided research and data collection assistance. The project was also supported by design and architectural rendering experts.
If you have any questions or comments about this study or the survey, please contact Dr. Kelli McMahan at email@example.com or by telephone at (254) 710-3712.