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Exploring Multiple Place Meanings at an Illinois State Park
Mae A. Davenport, Melissa L. Baker, Jessica E. Leahy, Dorothy H. Anderson
In the last decade, Illinois has seen a significant decline in conservation program funding, which has culminated in the proposed closure of several state parks. In times like these, it is especially important that park managers and state policymakers understand how significant conservation and recreation areas are to people and what makes them meaningful.This paper presents a multidimensional place meanings model and introduces a scale that encompasses a range of emotional and functional meanings that people associate with conservation and recreation areas. The place meanings scale was administered to a sample of visitors to a state park in Illinois. The objectives of the paper are to 1) introduce a place meanings scale and explore its dimensional structure, 2) compare meanings and overall place significance between local and non-local park visitors, and 3) examine the relationship between specific place meaning dimensions, place of residence, and overall place significance. Study findings indicate that the park is highly meaningful to respondents as a whole. Meanings associated with the protection of nature and natural processes and provision of onsite experiences garnered the highest ratings. The place meanings scale was reliable, but the need for significant modifications to its dimensional structure was revealed through exploratory factor analysis. Local visitors have a different connection to the park than non-local visitors in that it contributes to the character of their community and supports their emotional identities. Several place meaning domains were significantly correlated to the park’s overall significance and the new model with the inclusion of place of residence explained over 58 percent of the variation in overall place significance. These findings support expanding the traditional notion of parks and open spaces as recreation settings to include their roles in contributing to community character, maintaining local visitors’ emotional identities, and providing ecosystem services that protect wildlife habitat and maintain air and water quality. Policy-makers must consider the significance of state parks to local communities. Park managers can use the study findings to justify the significance of state parks and to prioritize efforts to fortify the community-park relationship.?
Place meanings, place attachment, communities, state parks
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