Capturing Outdoor Recreation and Ecological Patterns along a Multiple Use Mountain Stream

Jordan Pines Recreation Area, situated in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest (2024)  

Outdoor recreation opportunities fuel important Intermountain West economies, satisfy cultural needs, and uphold nature connectedness. Similarly, mountain freshwater ecosystems promote the development and recruitment of flora and fauna. When considered together, recreation ecosystems comprise natural areas with varying levels of human and (non) human use. Some of the chief drivers shifting more visitors into stream-lined canyons include increasing temperatures, fewer urban green spaces, and less exposure to plants, wildlife, and other natural elements. Greater outdoor recreation use raises questions about recreationally driven ecological impacts.  

Over the summer, Joshua will travel to Northern Utah, ensconcing himself along rocky streambanks, marsh complexes, and artificial urban shorelines to measure if and how different outdoor recreation activities influence local ecological communities. Using human and wildlife observation methods, he will watch how activity types and visitor movements influence habitat quality. Most of the research will occur throughout the Big Cottonwood Creek Watershed within the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. This work helps to forecast how different outdoor recreation activities might alter or (re) organize natural stream and shoreline ecosystems.The results will inform protected area stewardship objectives and initiatives aimed at the conservation of flowing ecosystems.


Joshua Kesling, Western Resource Fellow | Josh is a Master of Environmental Management candidate at Yale School of the Environment, broadly studying conservation ecology, riverine ecosystems, and recreation management. Within the discipline, he examines how human-nature interactions like recreation uses and wildlife conflicts drive freshwater resource use changes. Josh understands the important role freshwater-based recreation and tourism play in fueling local and regional economies and natural identities, but he contends that unsustainable patterns of resource usage imperil sensitive species and ecosystems. He grew up in Ohio, where the shallowest of the Great Lakes resides and the world’s largest walleye fishery persists. Some of the most formative years in Josh’s life occurred when he moved to Northern Utah. He began to consider the nexus of contentious environmental water transactions, explosive recreational industries, and mountain dweller ways of life. In his freetime, Josh loves to explore harbors, hike seashores, climb mountains in search of alpine wetlands, and write poetry.  See what Josh has been up to.   |   |  Blog