Building and Sustaining Support for National Parks in the 21st Century: Why and How to Save the National Park Experience from Extinction


  • Betty Weiler
  • Susan A. Moore
  • Brent D. Moyle


National park, threat, extinction, benefit, value, support


Understanding and enhancing societal support for national parks is critical for their survival globally, especially in the uncertain and rapidly changing economic and political environment of the 21st century. This paper argues that the continuing availability of a diversity of visitor experiences in national parks is essential for cultivating this support. Employing national park experiences as key tools for building and sustaining societal support, and the strategies for doing so, have received limited attention by scholars. This paper aims to conceptualize the benefits and threats to visitor experiences in national parks as a basis for cementing their protection and enhancement into park management practices. It does this by drawing on literature investigating the benefits of visiting parks as a theoretical and empirical foundation for identifying the range of visitor experiences that need to be saved from extinction. Principles for endangered species management, derived from conservation biology, are then used as a conceptual lens to examine the threats to these experiences. A values-based perspective suggests the need to both address threats to these experiences and foster the associated benefits to visitors and society. A suite of management strategies at the park/site level and systems level are suggested to reduce threats to the quality and diversity of visitor experiences as well as enhance the benefits of visiting national parks. These strategies can be engaged to complement rather than replace the current impact-focused approach to managing the visitor experience. Concluding recommendations for future research include: clarifying the threats to the visitor experience globally and the synergies between them, exploring the relationship between the management of settings in national parks and the accrual of benefits, and initiating and analyzing the efficacy of interventions designed to maintain and enhance the benefits of visiting national parks. Such initiatives are central to both saving the visitor experience from extinction and for building and sustaining support for national parks in the twenty-first century.