Place Attachment and Management of Critical Park Issues in Grand Teton National Park


  • David Smaldone
  • Charles C. Harris
  • Nick Sanyal
  • Doug Lind


Theory and empirical evidence suggest that place attachment is multidimensional, hard to define, and comprised of a wide range of constructs embodying both setting variables and personal variables (Relph, 1976; Brown & Perkins, 1992; Low & Altman, 1992). This concept has not been fully recognized and employed by past public land managers, but today’s more holistic planning involves assessing a multitude of values associated with “special places.” This paper seeks to contribute to this trend of using place attachment as a potential natural resource management tool.

Place attachment was examined in terms of the basis of visitors’ attachments to Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) and the relation of those attachments to key park management issues. Using a mail-back survey distributed over four months (July-October) to park visitors, information was collected and analyzed to discover visitor opinions regarding certain activities deemed “critical issues” by GTNP managers, such as grazing and hunting in the park. In addition, information about special places in the park was collected using open-ended questions to maximize the understanding of possible place meanings. The central question of the research was: Do visitors who are affected by these critical issues differ in regards to whether they reported having a special place in GTNP? Also, among those visitors reporting a special place in GTNP, do the reasons for their attachments differ based on whether and how they report being affected by these critical issues?

Results indicate that GTNP is a place that holds a multitude of meanings for visitors, including emotional and social meanings, and also meanings associated with the beautiful natural setting and outdoor recreation. In addition, visitors who reported a special place in GTNP were more likely to indicate an impact due to the critical issues than visitors who did not report a special place. Finally, the negatively affected  group was more likely to describe emotional connections to the park than the positive or neutrally impacted groups. Management implications of the findings include the need to expand visitor knowledge about the critical issues, as well as the need to assess the awareness and impact of those issues at appropriate times—when the issues such as grazing are occurring. In particular, management could potentially use place attachment as a criterion for identifying stakeholders when implementing public involvement processes.





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