Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Michael G. Johnson

Committee Members

William E. Hammit, John W. Lounsbury, Howard R. Pollio


One of the primary goals of the National Park Service is to protect the natural environments of its parks. At the same time the Park Service must provide quality experiences for its visitors. At times these two goals may seem mutually exclusive. For the Park Service to maintain a balance between protection and use management must possess a thorough understanding of the visitors to the parks. The present research sought to extend this understanding.

The goals of this research were: to explore differences in attitudes towards and perceptions of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) by different user groups; to determine how these attitudes and perceptions of visitor groups differ from people who have expertise in natural environments; to examine the effect of previous experience on attitudes and perceptions of visitors to GSMNP independent of user group; and to examine the activities in which user groups and experts engage while in a wildland recreation area such as GSMNP. A total of 1283 surveys was collected from visitors to GSMNP during the summer and fall of 1990. Items on the survey were designed to assess user attitudes and perceptions towards features, activities, and management policies in GSMNP using Steven's scaled and open-ended items. The activities chosen by visitors were assessed by an activities checklist.

The results from Stevens scale ratings and the analysis of open-ended items support the hypothesis that there are significant differences in attitudes towards features of the park, management decisions, and activities available in the park between different user groups. Results also confirm that experts in natural environments have different attitudes and perceptions of wildland recreation areas such as GSMNP from most visitor groups. User groups such as backpackers, who tend to have more personal contact with the environment, had attitudes which were similar to the experts, while groups who had less personal contact had attitudes which differed considerably from the experts.

Findings confirm that visitors with a high level of previous experience visiting wildland recreation areas like GSMNP have different attitudes and perceptions than visitors with a low level of previous experience. visitors who have been to several parks are more supportive of management initiatives and concerns than are those who have visited fewer parks. They tend to rate park features and experiences more positively than do those who have visited fewer parks and to rate the 'typical tourist experience' more negatively. The study found that visitors who had a large overall level of experience in wildland recreation areas had attitudes and perceptions which were different from those who had little overall experience and from those who had a high amount of local experience but little experience elsewhere. The study also found that different user groups, experts, and experience level groups come to GSMNP for different activities.

Understanding the attitudes and perceptions of visitors to wildland recreation areas is necessary in order to form policy that both protects the environment and provides a quality experience for the visitors. This study found differences in attitudes, perceptions and chosen activities among visitors in GSMNP, differences which vary reliably with experience. This data is useful for understanding the various groups studied and thus for effective policy formulation.

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