State park use and outdoor recreation benefits across demographically diverse populations in Georgia
Larson, Lincoln Ray
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In an era defined by shrinking budgets, shifting demographics, and growing concerns regarding physical inactivity and obesity, park managers around the United States are struggling to find ways to ensure that the beneficial outcomes of outdoor recreation are available to and enjoyed by visitors from all backgrounds. To address these issues, this study (part of the larger Georgia State Parks Diversity Project) investigated park-based outdoor recreation patterns and preferences across demographically diverse populations in northern Georgia. Researchers conducted a comprehensive assessment of state park use and associated recreation benefits in two distinct phases. Phase 1, the onsite assessment (summer 2010), examined visitor use and preferences within three Georgia state parks. Following a research protocol developed and tested during a 2009 pilot study, the onsite sample included 139 exit survey sessions (1,113 vehicles sampled), 217 behavior observations (18,525 visitors observed), and 5,192 intercept surveys. Phase 2, the offsite assessment (summer 2011), examined general park use and outdoor recreation preferences using 1,315 intercept surveys collected at flea markets throughout northern Georgia. Results suggested that state parks are a critical recreation resource for many people, and may be especially important to Georgia’s growing low-income and ethnically diverse populations. Most individuals in these historically under-represented groups engaged in social activities at parks (e.g., cookouts, family gatherings), highlighting the value of family-oriented outdoor recreation opportunities in efforts to increase the nature-based recreation participation of non-traditional park users. Data also revealed positive relationships between outdoor recreation, pro-environmental behavior, physical activity levels, and healthy child development. Overall, this study should provide state park managers in Georgia and other areas with insightful strategies for promoting and sustaining park use and related recreation benefits among a variety of stakeholders. Information obtained in this study could also help state park managers to better conceptualize public preferences and adjust their services, programs, and activities to meet specific needs of their increasingly diverse clientele.