Claimed Identities, Personal Projects, and Relationship to Place: A Hermeneutic Interpretation of the Backcountry/Wilderness Experience at Rocky Mountain National Park

Dissertation, Colorado State University (2003)
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Captured in narrative textual form through open-ended and tape-recorded interview conversations, visitor experience was interpreted to construct a description of visitors' relationships to place while at the same time providing insights for those who manage the national park. Humans are conceived of as meaning-makers, and outdoor recreation is viewed as emergent experience that can enrich peoples' lives rather than a predictable outcome of processing information encountered in the setting. This process-oriented approach positions subjective well-being and positive experience in the ongoing processes and activities that comprise our life pursuits rather than in particular end states toward which behaviors might be directed as in the case of end state frameworks. Several themes emerged in the interpretation across narratives including a relationship of stewardship/sense of respectful mitigation, socially constructed dimensions of the wilderness concept, which both converged with and deviated from definitions in The Wilderness Act of 1964, humans positioned as both part of wilderness and separate from it, description of a process whereby people form a relationship to protected places, and an awareness among visitors of the overarching management dilemma of how to balance human visitation with protection. Management insights and general implications that emerged from the overall interpretation such as using narrative illustration to enhance visitor education were summarized. It is suggested that the particularities of the setting, in conjunction with the process-oriented creation of meaning via varying levels of physical and social interaction with the setting each play important roles, perhaps at different times, for visitors' relationships to places within the Park. The process of forming long-term relationships to places is highlighted as the common thread running through the interpretation. The value of the national park is seen to lie in these relationships, which are time and context dependent, not necessarily in the attributes of the park, many of which are generic to other protected areas in North America. The dissertation concluded with an evaluation of this interpretation based on these implications and insights and provided direction for further research to learn about the processes involved with forming relationships to protected places
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Archival date: 2019-09-12
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