two men standing in front of a cityscape

The price of nature: ASU students research county parks, visitor fees

By

Heather Beshears

More than two million people hiked, biked, camped or fished at one of the 10 regional Maricopa County parks last year. How much are people willing to pay to access the parks?

That’s the focus of a study by undergraduate parks and recreation management student Milo Neild and doctoral student Eric Steffey in the School of Community Resources and Development, part of the College of Public Programs at Arizona State University.

The two received a grant from the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance to provide insight into park visitors’ level of acceptance of fees at three Maricopa County Regional Parks. Working with the School of Community Resources and Development associate professor Megha Budruk, the students put together a proposal.

“It’s an amazing opportunity on so many levels, not only with Milo being an undergraduate student … but also myself as a PhD student, having the opportunity to mentor somebody through the whole process of conducting research,” says Steffey.

The research will explore the relationships between willingness to pay, perceptions of fairness concerning fees, place attachment to the parks and visitor attitudes toward fees.

Controversy arose in August after City of Phoenix Mountain Preserve park officials suggested imposing a parking fee at three popular trailheads. This is the second time since 2010 that the Phoenix Parks and Recreation board proposed potential fee increases.

“We figured doing something fees-related made sense, but we decided not to do it in the City of Phoenix parks because it was just too raw,” Budruk says.

The researchers aim to complete the project by May 2015. According to Steffey, the proposal was submitted with hopes to eventually extend research to all Maricopa County Regional and City of Phoenix parks for data comparison.

“Our goal with this is really to make that connection between research and something palatable, to really inform public policy and decisions made in the practitioner realm,” says Steffey.

Neild, a senior, became involved in the project through the College of Public Programs’ Undergraduate Research Program.

The program is designed to provide undergraduate students with research, presentation and publication experience. Faculty members within the College of Public Programs play a crucial role in helping undergraduate students engage in research.

“It’s just been a great overall learning experience,” Neild says.

Budruk noted that the grant supports applied work within the community.

“It also speaks very much to our college’s mission, our school’s mission, about doing research that is benefiting the community and that comes from the community,” Budruk says.

Written by Adrianna Ovnicek