An Exploration of the Meanings of Parks in Oklahoma


  • Debra J. Jordan
  • Jordan Smith
  • Ashley Cox
  • Timia Thompson
  • JungHwan Jeon
  • Ines Palacios
  • Anthony Patterson
  • Judy Peel
  • Karla A. Henderson


experiences, grounded theory, meaning, place, symbolic interactionism


Parks have historically been places where individuals can enjoy the outdoors, relax, and experience nature. However, activities such as video games, television, and the Internet consume more of people’s free time than ever before. Given these changes in modern life, this paper examines the contemporary meanings individuals associate with parks using qualitative data. The study is guided by the organizing principles of symbolic interactionism, where the meanings associated with parks are individually constructed based on stories about personal and social interactions with park environments. Data used in this study come from a statewide essay contest in which individuals from Oklahoma were invited to submit original essays in response to the theme, “What parks mean to me.” A total of 266 original submissions were received, with 75 essays systematically selected and analyzed using a grounded theory process. Results indicate park meanings can be grouped into two broad thematic categories: personal and social. These thematic categories are linked through the unifying theme of memory-making. The personal meanings associated with parks coalesced around beauty, escape, relaxation, learning, and pride and respect. Social meanings were articulated through the ability of parks to facilitate social togetherness. Feelings of social togetherness were enabled through several parkrelated attributes manifested in the data: food, natural features, amenities, and activities. The integrative theme of memory-making was identified through the repeated narrative expressions of park experiences. These findings depicted the often underestimated value of parks in creating enduring memories. The results have value in offering to decision makers and stakeholders another perspective about the benefits and values of parks. Going beyond economic impacts, miles of trails, or visitor days as measures of worth, examining emotions and memories that people associate with parks enhances managers’ abilities to understand the deeper meanings of parks. Furthermore, the results make clear the job of park managers and staff as more than supplying and maintaining facilities and amenities, although without quality services memory-making would not occur. The results show that individual and combined elements such beauty, escape, relaxation, learning, pride and respect, social togetherness, food, natural features, amenities, and activities should be considered as possible means to reach the end result of memory-making in parks. An element essential to multiphasic park experiences is the recollections or memories that endure. Although the perceived benefits of parks are numerous, positive memories may be the ultimate outcome of experiences at parks. Lastly, using an essay contest as a method of public input may elicit information and feelings not typically used for evaluation and decision making.?





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