Surveying the Waterfall Experience: Reflection on the First Round of Interviews

Over the course of this past week, I created a survey used to gather data on what experiences people seek at waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. I also tested my survey by collecting 22 responses at both Multnomah and Latourell Falls this past weekend. In creation of my survey, I settled upon asking the following questions:

-Zip code or postal code (where the visitor is from)

– Why did you come to this waterfall?

– What were you hoping to get out of this visit?

-What expectations did you have about this place? What were they based on?

-How did your time here compare to your expectations?

-Rate scenic beauty from 1 (extremely low) to 10 (extremely high)

-Rate accessibility from 1 (inaccessible) to 10 (highly accessible)

-Rate crowding from 1 (not crowded) to 10 (highly congested)

-What did you take pictures of? Are there people in the pictures?

Upon creation of the survey, I was ready to give it a test run. A couple of different trends arose when I asked people why they came to the particular waterfall. Some respondents noted qualities of the waterfall (the tallest in Oregon etc.) as a motivation. Others came not only for the waterfall but for quality time outdoors with family, friends, and lovers. Out of all the responses so far, the majority of people came to take photos. Photography and the picturesque ended up being a major theme among respondents at both Latourell and Multnomah Falls. Responses also varied with regards to what people were hoping to experience. Some wanted to witness an inspiring waterfall, while others simply wanted to take pictures and go. Many desired more of a wilderness experience than was offered at Multnomah Falls while most visitors were satisfied by the option of a longer hike at Latourell. People’s expectations were by and large based on photos from the internet, especially instagram. Some mentioned hearing about the falls from a friend or hotel clerk, but photography was a key motivator. While most people had high expectations from the striking photos they’d seen, some had no expectations and simply stopped because they saw the waterfall from their car or observed large numbers of people in the parking lot. In this case, crowding acted as an attraction rather than a deterrent. With regards to how visitor’s experiences aligned with expectations, almost everyone that I surveyed couldn’t stop talking about how amazing both waterfalls were. Despite overall satisfaction with the waterfalls, many visitors at Multnomah Falls described the actual experience as being “less pristine than expected” due to crowding and fire damage. The trail to the brink of Multnomah was closed and many respondents were disappointed about being confined to the crowded viewing area. Everyone at Latourell Falls were highly satisfied with their experience due to less crowding, no fire damage, and a wider array of hiking excursions available.

Next time I gather responses, I plan to create separate forums for both Multnomah and Latourell Falls in order to better delineate data. Upon near completion of my surveys, I realized that all my data was going into a single set of graphs, making it a pain to tease out preliminary results and comparisons. I also plan to come earlier in the day next time as I was quickly running out of daylight at Latourell Falls. Despite some challenges, I’m quite satisfied with how my trial went and am excited to give it another shot.

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