Vermont Tourism Data Center

Participatory Modeling of Recreation and Tourism in the Northern Forest


Lisa C. Chase, University of Vermont Extension

Roelof M.J. Boumans, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics


Funding support for this project was provided by the Northeastern States Research Cooperative (NSRC), a partnership of Northern Forest states (New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and New York), in coordination with the USDA Forest Service.







Recreation and tourism in the Northern Forest have a long history of contributing to the economy, influencing the culture of local communities, and impacting the natural environment.  Although many rural communities are quick to embrace tourism for its perceived economic benefits, concerns exist regarding negative social and environmental impacts and inequitable distribution of economic benefits. An improved understanding of the opportunities and threats associated with rural tourism can help communities design tourism plans that are consistent with their goals and visions for the future.





  1. We conducted a series of participatory modeling workshops in selected communities in the Northern Forest. Two sites were in New Hampshire, two in Vermont, and two in New York.
  2. Workshop participants created computer models that describe recreation and tourism issues in their community. Experienced facilitators and modelers used the graphical programming language STELLA, a user friendly and transparent modeling platform, to guide discussion at the workshops.
  3. We worked with community participants to combine components of the six community models into a general model that can serve as a base model.  
  4. After the workshops were completed, the modeling processes were evaluated for their impacts on building community capacity, including diversifying the people who participate in decision-making and increasing knowledge of a complex system by engaging in an analytical planning process.


Findings and Outcomes

Evaluation results indicate that the model has potential to help communities make informed decisions about tourism development, however the base model requires additional inputs and the user-friendly interface needs to be further refined. Although the model itself needs to be further developed, the modeling process has already had positive impacts including strengthening relationships, promoting systems thinking, and helping to build consensus. One of the most interesting results was a shift in thinking regarding “quality of life.” When workshop discussions began, participants were focused on how to increase tourism. As the workshops progressed, community members shifted their focus to implications and trade-offs of this development, and discussed how different options would be best for their communities’ overall welfare. This shift in thinking led to a model representing quality of life, as defined by community members.


Implications for the Northern Forest Region

While future research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the model for decision-making, the process has been shown to be useful for fostering dialogue, gaining new perspectives, and building consensus. A STELLA computer model with a user-friendly interface and step-by-step manual is now available for communities in the Northern Forest to examine tourism and recreation issues. 


To view the manual for the General Model, click here

To view regional models using Microsoft PowerPoint, click on the links below:

Saranac Lake, New York
Wilmington, New York
Northeast Kingdom, Vermont
Colebrook, New Hampshire
Carroll, New Hampshire
Franklin and Grand Isle Counties, Vermont

The general model and regional models can be downloaded.  First you will need to download the STELLA software.

To download STELLA: 

Follow this link to download STELLA

1.      On the STELLA website, click on "Join isee Community"
2.      Register your contact information
3.      Receive password and log in.
4.      Select the download for your type of computer (PC or MAC).
To open the models:
1.      Select the model you wish to review from the linked list below.
2.      Save this data to your computer by clicking on the link and choosing the "save to disk" option.
3.      Double click the file on your computer.

Choose the model you wish to download here:

General Model
Northeast Kingdom Model
Saranac Lake Model
Colebrook Model
Carroll, NH Model
Wilmington Model
Franklin and Grand Isle Counties Model

For more information on the project, click here.





Last modified December 19 2008 02:48 PM

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