Larry Merriam was among the first to study wilderness users when, in 1960, he interviewed visitors to the Bob Marshall Wilderness as part of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission’s national study of wilderness. Born in Oregon in 1923, Larry was the son of a National Park Service employee who was regional director in San Francisco from 1950 to 1963. He was grandson of a director of the Carnegie Institution who, knowing NPS director Stephen Mather, served as chairman of a committee instrumental in the formation of the NPS’s interpretation program. Time with his father and grandfather, visits to parks and time living in Yosemite in the 1930s had a profound effect on Larry. He obtained a B.S. in forestry from the University of California Berkeley in 1948. After three years in the Navy during World War II and some time working as a salesman, a mill worker and for Oregon state parks, he obtained an M.S. and, ultimately, a Ph.D. in forest recreation from Oregon State University in 1963.
Initially, Larry taught in the Forestry Department at the University of Montana for 7 years, while he completed his Ph.D. work and conducted the ORRRC study in the Bob Marshall. In 1966, he took a similar position in the Forestry Department of the University of Minnesota where he taught until his retirement in 1986. At Minnesota, with initial funding from Bob Lucas and the Lake States Forest Experiment Station, Larry oversaw a number of studies of wilderness campsites in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. With Steve McCool and Tim Knopp he inventoried campsites, assessing their condition. In the late 1960s, he began a study of some newly-created campsites, observing how rapidly impact occurs once campsites are opened to use. Having followed conditions on these sites for 15 years, he provided some of the first information about trends in impact in wilderness. Finally, in the early 1980s, he was Jeff Marion’s major professor during the years Jeff studied campsites in the Boundary Waters. During his time at Minnesota, he coauthored revisions of the text, Recreational Use of Wildlands, originally written by C. Frank Brockman in 1959.
After retiring, Larry moved back to Corvallis, Oregon, as an emeritus professor, where he passed away in 2008. Although his wilderness work was not voluminous, Larry was a pioneer—among the first to study both wilderness visitors and wilderness impacts.