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Visitors' conceptualizations of wilderness experiencesAuthor(s): Erin Seekamp; Troy Hall; David Cole
Source: In: Cole, David N., comp. Wilderness visitor experiences: Progress in research and management; 2011 April 4-7; Missoula, MT. Proc. RMRS-P-66. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station p. 50-61.
Publication Series: Proceedings (P)
Station: Rocky Mountain Research Station
PDF: Download Publication (335.94 KB)
DescriptionDespite 50 years of wilderness visitor experience research, it is not well understood how visitors conceptualize a wilderness experience. Diverging from etic approaches to wilderness visitor experience research, the research presented in this paper applied an emic approach to identify wilderness experience attributes. Specifically, qualitative data from 173 on-site semi-structured interviews illustrate that wilderness visitors’ conceptualizations of wilderness experiences strongly resemble characteristics described in the Wilderness Act. Furthermore, descriptions reveal that experiences are both complex and dynamic, and an assortment of personal, social and environmental factors determine experience quality. Although most participants reported experiencing wilderness, they also frequently mentioned factors that diminished the quality of the experience. Their conception of a prototypical experience was one occurring in a remote destination with few (or no) encounters where they can escape civilization. Some participants explained that such premier experiences are readily found even within high-use wilderness areas by hiking off-trail or by hiking further from trailheads, and most participants asserted that these experiences can also be found outside of designated wilderness. These data illustrate that naturalness, lack of development, and solitude remain relevant wilderness experience concepts, particularly for visitors seeking "outstanding" wilderness experiences.
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CitationSeekamp, Erin; Hall, Troy; Cole, David. 2012. Visitors' conceptualizations of wilderness experiences. In: Cole, David N., comp. Wilderness visitor experiences: Progress in research and management; 2011 April 4-7; Missoula, MT. Proc. RMRS-P-66. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station p. 50-61.
Keywordsmanagement frameworks, recreation management, research methods, solitude, technology, visitor density, wilderness experience
- Personal wilderness relationships: Building on a transactional approach
- Potential roles of research in enhancing the performance of management in securing high quality visitor experiences in wilderness
- Research needs for a better understanding of wilderness visitor experiences
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