Indicators and standards of sustainable recreational boating on Lake Champlain


February 1, 2008 to January 31, 2010


Recreational boating is an important and growing use of Lake Champlain (and other water bodies in Vermont and New York and the U.S. more broadly). Recreational boating provides valuable opportunities for the public to enjoy and appreciate the Lake, and recreational boating and ancillary activities make important contributions to local and regional economies.  However, like all recreational activities, too much boating and/or inappropriate boating-related behavior can cause unacceptable environmental impacts (e.g., water pollution, degradation of riparian areas) and can degrade the quality of the recreation experience (e.g., crowding and conflicting uses).  Recreational boating must be planned and managed in a sustainable way in order to ensure that the natural environment is protected, the quality of the experience is maintained, and that the Lake-based recreation/tourism economy remains healthy.  Planning and managing sustainable recreational boating will be most effective if it is informed by a theoretical/conceptual framework and associated program of relevant research.

Within the field of outdoor recreation, sustainability has conventionally been addressed through the concept of carrying capacity (Stankey and Manning, 1986; Shelby and Heberlein, 1986; Manning, 1999; Manning, 2004).  In its most generic form, carrying capacity refers to amount and type of recreation that can be accommodated without unacceptable impacts to natural resources and the quality of the visitor experience.  This fundamental tension between use and protection of natural resources is inherent in all environmentally-related manifestations of the contemporary concept of sustainability.

The scientific and professional literature on carrying capacity/sustainability in outdoor recreation suggests that it can most effectively be defined, planned and managed within a management-by-objectives framework, and several contemporary frameworks have been developed, including Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) (Stankey et al., 1985) and Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP) (National Park Service, 1997; Manning, 2001).  These frameworks rely on formulation of indicators and standards for both resource conditions and the quality of the visitor experience.  Indicators are measurable, manageable variables that represent desired resource and experiential conditions.  Standards of quality define the minimum acceptable condition of indicator variables.  Carrying capacity/sustainability is guided by monitoring indicator variables and taking management actions (e.g., limiting use, educating visitors, hardening resources) to ensure that standards are maintained.

The conceptual framework of indicators and standards has emerged as an effective approach to defining, planning, and managing sustainability in outdoor recreation.  A program of research was designed to apply and demonstrate this management approach and to illustrate the ways in which scientific research can help inform definition of indicators and standards.  This program of research addressed the increasingly important issue of the sustainability of recreational boating on Lake Champlain, as well as other water bodies more broadly.


Anderson, L.E., Manning, R.E., Monz, C., & Goonan, K. 2012. Indicators and standards of quality for paddling on Lake Champlain. Journal of Great Lakes Research 38(Supplement 1):150-156 doi: 10.1016/j.jglr.2011.05.003.

Goonan, K., Monz, C., Manning, R.E., & Anderson, L.E. 2012. An analysis of current resource conditions and visitor standards of primitive campsites along Lake Champlain. Journal of Great Lakes Research 38(Supplement 1):157-166 doi: 10.1016/j.jglr.2011.05.010.


Robert Manning
Professor, University of Vermont
Robert.Manning [at]