• disturbance;
  • trampling;
  • Thuja occidentalis;
  • canopy effects;
  • survival;
  • damage

Abstract Restoration of degraded natural vegetation in parks is often complicated by the need to maintain public access. We tested whether the natural canopy species, Thuja occidentalis, can be restored to degraded cliff edges in Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario, Canada without reductions in visitor numbers. Eighty 10-year-old and 80 4-year-old container-grown saplings and 1,400 seeds were planted and monitored for 4 years. Eight treatments were applied that tested for effects of planting site (distance from cliff edge and pathways) and supportive measures (soil, water, cages, or signs) on survival, growth, and damage. No trees became successfully established from seed. Younger trees showed faster initial establishment and growth, but 4-year survival was the same for both age groups (39%). Supplemental soil improved the health of planted trees, and both soil and water slightly improved their survival. Cages did not affect survival and growth but decreased damage to 4-year-old trees and increased it for 10-year-olds. Signs had no effect on any measured variable. Trees planted away from the cliff edge and from pathways had the greatest establishment success, 4-year survival, and general health. Relative visitor density, as estimated from spot counts of visitors, had the largest effect on restoration success; the results suggest a threshold of visitor density above which restoration may be impossible. Planting location, especially with respect to shade, was also important. The planting of 4-year-old trees without supportive measures is suggested as the most cost-effective restoration technique at this site. The results indicate that restoration of open woodland habitats is possible without total visitor exclusion but that some restrictions on visitor numbers or activities are necessary.