Kelly Goonan

Assistant Professor of Outdoor Recreation


Outdoor recreation expertise with outdoor safety tips, planning national park visits, and planning and management of outdoor recreation.



Dr. Kelly Goonan is the program coordinator and associate professor of outdoor recreation in parks and tourism at Southern Utah University. A self-described “hybrid recreation ecologist/recreation social scientist”, her expertise is in management of outdoor recreation, natural resources and protected areas.

Dr. Goonan’s research interests include recreation impact analysis, park sustainability and visitor disturbance projections. She has published academic papers in various national journals, including the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration and the Journal of Environmental Management. Dr. Goonan also taught for the Semester in the Parks and Jumpstart - Our National Parks programs at SUU. She has also led Partners in the Parks projects to introduce Honors students from across the country to our great national parks.

Dr. Goonan earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and Spanish with a minor in outdoor studies from St. Lawrence University. She earned a master’s degree in natural resources from the University of Vermont and a Ph.D. in human dimensions of ecosystem science and management from Utah State University.


3 min

Tips for Beginner Ice Skaters

Whether you enjoy figure skating, hockey, or speed skating, winter is the best time to bundle up and head to your local ice rink. So, which of the 200 biggest U.S. cities have the most glorious opportunities to glide on ice? To find out, LawnStarter ranked 2023’s Best Cities for Ice Skating. Dr. Kelly Goonan, program coordinator and assistant professor of outdoor recreation in parks and tourism at Southern Utah University, offers the following advice for beginners as well as important safety tips while enjoying the outdoors. For someone trying ice skating for the first time, I would recommend going to a skating rink since you can be confident that the ice is being maintained and is safe for skating. Also, be prepared to fall and try again! Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t “click” right away, as many activities take more than one try to get the hang of.For most people, the hardest aspect of ice skating is stopping. There are multiple techniques to stop, so it’s a good idea to ask a staff member or experienced ice skater to explain and demonstrate those techniques. Start out slow and practice stopping. Once you are able to come to a controlled stop, then you can pick up the pace.Dr. Goonan recommends skating at an ice rink, as they are maintained and monitored to ensure the ice is strong enough to hold the weight of the skaters and likely will not have any hazards like cracks, large chips, or thin spots.Judging the strength of ice on natural bodies of water –– like lakes or ponds –– is very difficult to do without special training and equipment. Even on very cold days, the ice may not be suitable for skating. It is important to understand that the risk of injury is much higher skating on natural bodies of water than at a rink, and skating on frozen bodies of water is not advised.However, if you do choose to ice skate outdoors on a frozen body of water, take the following precautions:Do not skate on river ice or ice covered in snow.Stay away from white ice.Do not skate if you see cracks in the ice.Ice should be clear and at least 4 inches (10 cm) thick. Check multiple areas to ensure there are no thin spots, cracks, or white ice.Wear a life jacket over your winter jacket. This may sound silly, but wet clothes will be heavier and make it more difficult to get out of the water or keep your head above the surface if you do fall in.Go with a buddy. Never go ice skating outdoors on natural bodies of water by yourself.Research and practice self-rescue skills for falling through ice into water.If someone falls through the ice, do not go after them. Call 9-1-1 immediately. If you are able, reach or toss an object like a rope, ladder, or tree branch to the victim. If you have an item they can hold onto to help them stay afloat, like an extra life jacket, toss that to them as well. Talk to them and remain calm while you wait for professional rescue crews to arrive.A self-described “hybrid recreation ecologist/recreation social scientist”, Dr. Goonan’s expertise is in the management of outdoor recreation, natural resources, and protected areas. She is familiar with the media and available for an interview

Kelly Goonan

2 min

SUU Partners with Tempe Festival of the Arts

Thanks to an ongoing partnership between Downtown Tempe Authority and Southern Utah University’s Outdoor Recreation in Parks and Tourism (ORPT) program, students in the program are able to participate in the Tempe Festival of the Arts (TFA) each year.“This has been a great partnership for both ORPT and Tempe Festival of the Arts,” said Dr. Kelly Goonan. “What is especially notable is they reached out to SUU specifically because of our reputation and emphasis on experiential education, even though there are other colleges and universities much closer.”Since 2018, SUU’s ORPT program has participated in the event immersion program, giving students valuable hands-on experience with the long-running festival. Students help with setup and takedown and depending on the season, either shadow staff to learn about a program area or supervise an area themselves.Each fall, students meet with staff from organizations like the City of Tempe and Tempe Tourism, and each spring, with staff with specific responsibilities with the festival. These Spotlight Sessions give students the opportunity to learn more about each person and their work with the festival.“Through the program, students learn about the logistics and planning needed to host a large-scale event and the specific elements needed for the smaller program areas within the event. They also learn how community events like TFA can support the missions of multiple organizations. Students also develop professional skills like communication, problem-solving, and organization and grow their professional network.”The Outdoor Recreation in Parks and Tourism program at SUU is an interdisciplinary degree offered by the Department of Kinesiology and Outdoor Recreation. The interdisciplinary nature of the program includes course work from agriculture science, biology, communication, geology, and hotel and hospitality management.

Kelly Goonan

2 min

Reaching the Summit Safely - Overcrowding on Mount Everest

With at least 11 deaths, Mount Everest is having one the deadliest climbing seasons to date. Typical causes such as avalanches, blizzards, and high winds are not the leading causes, but instead, an overabundance of climbers on the mountain, and in particular inexperienced climbers, are to blame. According to the New York Times, “fly-by-night adventure companies are taking up untrained climbers who pose a risk to everyone on the mountain. And the Nepalese government, hungry for every climbing dollar it can get, has issued more permits than Everest can safely handle, some experienced mountaineers say.”Dr. Kelly Goonan, assistant professor of outdoor recreation at Southern Utah University and expert on impact analysis, park sustainability, and visitor disturbance projections, shares her view on the tragic circumstances happening at Everest. “We often think of crowding in outdoor spaces as an inconvenience or simple annoyance, however, the recent events on Mount Everest illustrate how, sometimes, the results can be tragic. We are talking about a complex combination of factors: commercializing adventure activities; profits from nature tourism; making high-risk activities more accessible; and a phenomenon known as ‘destructive goal pursuit,’ or what happens when we get so focused on a singular goal—like reaching the summit—that we do not recognize risks or the consequences of our choices and actions.”Along with those factors, at Mount Everest the stakes are even higher. “The pressure of bad weather ‘ruining’ a summit attempt means that everyone goes during brief periods of favorable weather, creating literal traffic jams at the most dangerous spot. With the summit in sight, climbers are reluctant to abandon their attempt even when their oxygen runs low or their designated turn-around-time passes.” Goonan suggests that the Nepalese government should reconsider the number of permits issued each season and establish criteria for certified guiding companies. “Guides should screen their clients to ensure they have the experience and health needed to safely reach the summit, enforce turn-around times, and forgo the temptation to ‘travel light’ in the event the group is delayed. Finally, we should all remember that reaching the summit is only half the journey: we must make it down safely if we want to continue climbing mountains.”A self-described “hybrid recreation ecologist/recreation social scientist”, Dr. Goonan’s expertise is in the management of outdoor recreation, natural resources, and protected areas. She is familiar with the media and available for an interview. Simply visit her profile.Source:  

Kelly Goonan
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Industry Expertise

Environmental Services

Areas of Expertise

Visitor Use Management
Wilderness First Aid
Resource Management
Recreation Impact Analysis
Recreation Ecology
Outdoor Recreation Management
Outdoor Recreation
Outdoor Education
Natural Resources
National Park Sustainability
Human Dimensions of Ecosystems
Americans in the Outdoors


Utah State University


Human Dimensions of Ecosystem Science and Management

University of Vermont


Natural Resources

St. Lawrence University


Environmental Studies


Wilderness First Responder

Certified by the Wilderness Medicine Training Institute

Utah Women's Leadership Exchange Associate,


Conservation Representative

Utah Outdoor Adventure Commission

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  • Spanish

Media Appearances

Zion Regional Recreation Management Plan

The Conservation Fund  online


Webinar on visitor use management

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2023’s Best Cities for Ice Skating

LawnStarter  online


We looked for cities with plenty of access to ice rinks, skating lessons, and hockey equipment. We also considered climate conditions and local popularity based on hockey teams, figure skating competitions, and Google searches.

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2021’s Best Cities for Hiking

LawnStarter  online


Common barriers to access to outdoor recreation and green space include physical barriers such as infrastructure and community planning; lack of transportation (either personal or public); limited financial resources; and social influences including lack of awareness/education, history of exclusion from outdoor spaces, or not having experienced family or friends to introduce you to outdoor activities.

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Research Grants

Recreation Impact Inventory

Bureau of Land Management

Recreation Impact Inventory, Monitoring and Assessment, Arizona Strip District, Arizona. 2015

Recreation Impact Inventory

Bureau of Land Management.

Recreation Impact Inventory, Monitoring and Assessment, Arizona Strip District, Arizona. 2017

Determination of Standards of Resource and Visitor Experience Conditions to Protect Sensitive Coastal Resources

Ocean Alaska Science and Learning Center, Pacific Ocean Parks Strategy Technical Assistance Program

This research was designed to identify indicators of quality and formulate associated standards of quality for social and recreational resource conditions for the coastal back country of Kenai Fjords National Park.

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Studies in Outdoor Recreation

Oregon State University Press

Robert E. Manning With Laura Anderson, Megha Budruk, Kelly Goonan, Jeffrey Hallo, Daniel Laven, Steven Lawson, Rebecca Stanfield McCown, Ben Minteer, Peter Newman, Elizabeth Perry, Peter Pettengill, Nathan Reigner, William Valliere, Carena van Riper, and Xiao Xiao


Studies in Outdoor Recreation is a standard text in courses on parks and outdoor recreation

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COVID-19 and its impact on visitation and management at US national parks

International Hospitality Journal

Templeton, A., Goonan, K., Fayal, A.

This paper examines the challenges and opportunities for visits to national parks post-COVID-19, generally and in the specific context of Southern Utah. This paper will critically examine how visitation may change and what adaptive measures and alternative forms of unit management may be necessary.

Visitor satisfaction levels at Southern Utah national parks as the number of visitors increases.

International Journal of Business, Marketing, and Decision Sciences

Steed, E., Kroff, M., Goonan, K.

This study investigates the visitors' satisfaction levels to find out if satisfaction levels were decreasing due to the increased visitation levels at southern Utah national parks, which had experienced double digit visitation increases the past two years.

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HONR 2040 Honors Inquiry and Analysis

Students will engage in learning activities to develop the critical thinking, problem solving, and research skill-sets necessary to investigate complex interdisciplinary questions and problems thoroughly.

ORPT 2040 Americans in the Outdoors

Examines human values, uses, and management of natural settings at the individual, community, and societal levels.

ORPT 3030 Recreation Resources Management

Principles of wildland recreation management including: characteristics of recreation use and users, introduction to planning concepts, management of wildland recreation facilities and infrastructure, and integration with other natural resource uses.

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