The Lab

Will Rice University of Montana

Dr. Will Rice

Lab Director he/him

Ph.D. Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and the Environment and Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management, Pennsylvania State University

M.S. Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management, Pennsylvania State University

B.S. Environmental and Natural Resource Economics and Policy, Clemson University

Will is Assistant Professor of Outdoor Recreation and Wildland Management in the Parks, Tourism, and Recreation Program and Department of Society and Conservation at the University of Montana. His research seeks to provide wildland recreation managers with social science to improve the experiences of all visitors while preserving the ecosystems that support those experiences. This agenda focuses broadly on improving measurement and management of demand for recreational ecosystem services (e.g., physical, mental, and social wellbeing) in parks and protected areas. More specifically, he's interested in the personal and social outcomes demanded by wildland recreationists and developing innovative tools and measures that can be used by public land managers to ensure the sustainable attainment of these outcomes. 

Will's research has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, NPR's Science Friday, USA Today, and other international outlets. In 2022, he represented the outdoor recreation research community as an invited witness providing testimony in a congressional hearing on visitor use management in U.S. national parks.

Will previously served as a Directorate Fellow with the Alaska region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and as a trail crew member and ranger with the National Park Service in Wind Cave, Yellowstone, Cape Cod, the Missouri River, and Grand Canyon. In 2015, he became Clemson University's first recipient of the Udall Scholarship.

Learn more about Will's work here.

Elena Thomas

M.S. Student she/her

B.A. Anthropology and Religion, University of Florida

Elena earned a B.A. in Anthropology and Religion in 2013 from the University of Florida. Since then, she has worked across the Western U.S. in a variety of positions including a trail crew stint with the U.S. Forest Service in Bigfork, Montana, an Archaeological Technician both in Oregon with the U.S. Forest Service and Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park, and, most recently, two seasons as a Wilderness Ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Her research interests include public land and protected area management, visitor demand of recreational ecosystem services, and place attachment/place bonding. In her free time, Elena enjoys climbing, biking, skiing, cooking, learning new crafts, and planning trips abroad!

Elena joins the Wildland and Recreation Management Research Lab as an M.S. Candidate in Parks, Tourism, and Recreation Management. 

Peter Whitney

M.S. Student he/him

B.S. Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Hailing from Chicago, Peter’s love for outdoor recreation, ecology and public lands grew from time spent in small, urban patches of remnant natural communities. Inspired by ecological restoration projects in his hometown, Peter completed his B.S. in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources with a minor in Horticulture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While completing his undergraduate degree and in subsequent jobs, Peter has had the opportunity to balance his contributions to social science research projects with hands-on land management experience. He's especially interested in advancing the role of recreational ecosystem services in public space planning and management, and exploring solutions that balance visitor use with natural resource conservation. When he's not on campus, you can find Peter enjoying Montana's public lands while biking, botanizing, skiing, or engaged in unending games of frisbee with his border collie, Flora.

Peter joins the Wildland and Recreation Management Research Lab as an M.S. Candidate in Parks, Tourism, and Recreation Management.

Sophie Morris

M.S. Student she/her

B.S. Natural Resources Management and Wildlife Biology, Texas Tech University

Growing up in a military family allowed Sophie to explore the natural spaces and varied ecosystems found across the United States. These experiences ultimately led her to earn a B.S. in Natural Resources Management and Wildlife Biology from Texas Tech University in 2022. While working on her undergraduate degree, Sophie worked on multiple field crews and led undergraduate research, contributing to her fascination with the environmental principles that play into management decisions used to keep our shared resources available for future generations. Her research interests include recreation allocations in protected areas, how recreationists influence wildlife movement, and mapping visitor use/distribution/impact. She is looking forward to bridging her knowledge of natural science with social science techniques. Outside of research, Sophie enjoys hiking and biking new spaces, identifying plants, and photography.

Sophie joins the Wildland and Recreation Management Research Lab as an M.S. Candidate in Parks, Tourism, and Recreation Management.

Kelsey Phillips

M.S. Student she/her

B.S. Biology, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Originally from Chicago, Kelsey earned a B.S. in Biology from the University of Wisconsin– Madison, where she studied microbial ecology in north temperate bog lakes. It was there that she discovered her passion for the outdoors, and the joy that fieldwork and research can bring. After working as a microbiologist in both academic and brewery labs in Chicago and Oregon, Kelsey refocused her interest in wildland recreation and ecology and worked as a Crew Leader for the Montana Conservation Corps in Missoula. She’s particularly interested in understanding how making protected areas more accessible to more people can become sustainable in a changing environment and climate. In her free time, Kelsey can be found mountain biking, splitboarding, climbing, and backpacking all over Montana and Idaho.

Kelsey joins the Wildland and Recreation Management Research Lab as an M.S. Candidate in Parks, Tourism, and Recreation Management.

Grace Walhus

Undergraduate Student she/her

B.S. (in progress) Parks, Tourism, and Recreation Management

Grace, a senior at the University of Montana, studies Parks, Tourism, and Recreation Management and Ecological Restoration. Born and raised in Montana, Grace grew up exploring public lands and became passionate about the outdoors. She is interested in topics such as green space accessibility, visitor use of public lands, and developing stewardship through recreation and education. Grace has experience in working multiple seasons with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, and the U.S. Forest Service throughout Montana. She is also president of the University of Montana Student Recreation Association, enjoys being with family and friends, and exploring new places!


Lab Mascot

Certificate in Basic Manners, Humane Society of Western Montana

Lolo was born in Browning, Montana. She eventually found herself in Missoula and joined ranks with the Wildland and Recreation Management Research Lab. Her primary research interests lie in micro-timber mechanics and transportation, predictive modeling of food-to-bowl delivery systems, and the restorative properties of abdominal massage. In her free time, Lolo enjoys hiking, eating, sunbathing, and napping—preferably in that order. Lolo obtained the title of B.A.R.K. Ranger from Curecanti National Recreation Area and San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in 2022 and 2023, respectively, in recognition of her tireless commitment to Leave No Trace.

She is a very good girl.


Lane Arthur

Undergraduate Student he/him

B.S. Parks, Tourism, and Recreation Management and Wildlife Biology, University of Montana 

WARM Lab member from Spring 2020 to Winter 2022