A Walk in the Woods: A Social-Ecological Approach to Managing Health Outcomes in Parks and Protected Areas


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Recreation visitation within parks and protected areas (PPAs) has increased substantially over the past several decades and even more so within recent years, due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic. PPAs often serve a critical role in society as a natural reprieve for the restoration of both mental and physical health. For many, outdoor recreation most frequently takes place in relatively small and local PPAs, often due to ease of access and familiarity with the resource. Thus, resource managers within local PPAs are growing increasingly concerned regarding the impact of increasing visitation upon social, situational, and ecological factors, health outcomes, and overall experience quality. Yet, PPA research has historically assessed these issues within a narrow scope, often assessing a single issue, at a single site, within a single and/or limited timeframe. The SES conceptual framework suggests a broader and more comprehensive approach to PPA research, by assessing the influence of both social and ecological factors across broader spatial and temporal scales. This study examined the influence of social factors (e.g., crowding and place attachment), ecological factors (e.g., resource and trail degradation), and situational factors (e.g., signage and the COVID-19 pandemic), upon perceived health outcomes and overall satisfaction, across both spatial (e.g., system-wide) and temporal scales (e.g., across all 4-seasons) at a local PPA in New England, referred to as College Woods (CW). An on-site survey method was used to collect data from CW visitors from September 2020 to August 2021 (n= 539). Structural equation modeling and binary logistic regression analyses suggest social, situational, and ecological factors were significant predictors of visitor health outcomes and overall satisfaction at CW. Moreover, health outcomes served to fully mediate the relationship between social and situational factors upon overall satisfaction. Study findings lend themselves to an integration between SES and visitor use management conceptual frameworks and provide critical theoretical and managerial insights.


First Name Last Name
Alex Caraynoff
Robert Barcelona
Lauren Ferguson
Krista Rodrigues
Darrick Evensen
Michael Ferguson

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Submission Details

Conference GRC
Event Graduate Research Conference
Department Recreation Management & Policy (GRC)
Group Poster Presentation
Added April 5, 2022, 1:41 p.m.
Updated April 5, 2022, 1:42 p.m.
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