The Visitor Experience at Jockey's Ridge: Humans and Nature in a Dynamic Coastal Landscape.

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Title: The Visitor Experience at Jockey's Ridge: Humans and Nature in a Dynamic Coastal Landscape.
Author: Mitas, Ondrej
Advisors: Professor Art Rice, Committee Member
Dr. Karla Henderson, Committee Member
Dr. Gene Brothers, Committee Chair
Abstract: As population and developed areas in the U.S. continue to grow, rapidly changing environments such as dunes, swamps, floodplains, and cliffs will have to be managed with more attention to surrounding civilization. In some cases, human interventions can "freeze in time" aspects of these environments, preserving landscape features for future generations, but also fundamentally changing their naturalistic character. To be socially equitable, such decisions must be informed by empirical measures of the benefits visitors gain from the park in its current state as well as the benefits they gain from the processes that are visibly changing it. Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head, North Carolina contains the largest active sand dune on the U.S. Atlantic coast is located in the midst of dense, commercially-oriented tourist development. A sustainable management policy for Jockey's Ridge will require understanding the experiences of nearly 800,000 annual visitors to the park. Knowing what the visitors most value in the opportunity to visit and experience the park is especially important. Data were collected by a paper questionnaire given to a systematic sample of visitors entering the park at various times of day during the peak summer season and also during the early fall of 2005. The questionnaire contained 24 interval-level scale items as well as several open-ended questions which asked visitors for their thoughts on Jockey's Ridge as a unique attraction in the Northern Outer Banks tourism context and their feelings on the dynamic nature of the park's natural features. A factor analysis of scale items revealed five factors: Personal Benefits, Observing Nature, Sensational Benefits, Structured Activities, and Solitude. The scores for these five factors were then entered as independent variables for a series of linear and logistic regressions. Several significant relationships were found between the factors and behavioral and perceptual variables. Responses to the open-ended questions were content analyzed for themes and coded to determine theme occurrences and relationships, revealing a variety of important themes in the experience of the dynamic landscape of Jockey's Ridge in the context of Outer Banks tourism. The importance of nature as communicated in the qualitative responses suggested that for many visitors nature is at the center of the Jockey's Ridge experience. The nature-oriented management of Jockey's Ridge as a State Park and the natural character of its landscape offer visitors a relief or contrast from the highly developed touristic environs of the Northern Outer Banks. The experience of nature with the dune feature as its chief attraction provided opportunities for family time and bonding, peace and quiet, and visual enjoyment of a spectacular natural scene. Experience of Jockey's Ridge as a natural setting led to the predominant perception that the ever-changing size and shape of the dune are caused by natural processes. Many visitors experienced changes as enjoyable or simply inevitable. The importance of nature to the Jockey's Ridge experience shows that the active dune should be managed with the minimum visible interference that is necessary. The results suggest that in a densely developed tourism context, visitors enjoy many naturebased attractions as a relief from or contrast to commercial, impactful, and crowded activity options. When an attraction such as Jockey's Ridge offers a significant area for free movement, natural and cultural significance, and interpretive facilities, visitors gain a variety of benefits that can facilitate social and familial cohesion as well as ecological awareness.
Date: 2006-07-25
Degree: MS
Discipline: Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management

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