Land & Environment

Research Landscapes: How Social Media Posts Can Improve Utah's Outdoor Recreation

By Tabitha Smiel |

Do communities benefit from outdoor recreation? What would happen if community leaders treated outdoor recreation as an opportunity and a public service, similar to a city's roads, police or fire department?

On Thursday, May 12, USU Research Landscapes will return with a focus on Utah's outdoor recreation, featuring Jordan Smith, the director of the Institute of Tourism and Outdoor Recreation at Utah State University.

The event will also feature remarks by Rep. Doug Owens, Utah’s representative from District 36 and founder of Utah Outdoor Partners, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the economic value of outdoor recreation.

The presentation marks a return to an in-person format for the event series for the first time since 2019.

Using social media tagging and other information, Smith is able to track where people visit and recreate on public lands. When mapped, the data provides insights into the most popular parts of the state, and locations that would benefit from improved recreation infrastructure.

During the presentation, he will highlight three current research projects:

  • A look at visitation trends in Little Cottonwood, Big Cottonwood and Millcreek canyons.
  • An effort, in coordination with tribal leaders, to select a location for the Bears Ears National Monument visitor center.
  • A research-focused collaboration to identify investment opportunities for outdoor recreation infrastructure development throughout Utah.

Those interested in attending Smith's Research Landscapes presentation can RSVP at The event, held at the O.C. Tanner headquarters in Salt Lake City, begins at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 12, and will include a 30-minute presentation and a question-and-answer session.

In August of 2020, Smith made an appearance on the “Instead” podcast and discussed recreation and tourism in the state.

Smith was also one of the featured authors in the 2021 Report to the Governor on Utah's Land, Water, and Air, which was shared at the report release and naming celebration of the Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water and Air in December.

Research Landscapes, which is sponsored by O.C. Tanner, provides an entry point for state and community decision-makers across the Wasatch Front to connect with the researchers who are investigating Utah’s land, water and air challenges. As the state’s land-grant institution, Utah State University is uniquely situated to help solve these critical issues facing the state.

Future events will feature Matt Yost on Aug. 4 to discuss agricultural land and resource practices, and Joanna Endter-Wada on Nov. 3 to discuss urban water demand management.


Tabitha Smiel
Communications Assistant
Office of Research


Anna McEntire
Managing Director
Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water, and Air
(435) 881-1323


Research 894stories Land Management 124stories Outdoor 81stories

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