Friendship wanted: Small historic park seeks relevance with locals

Authors: Elizabeth Perry*, Clemson University
Topics: Recreational and Sport Geography, Cultural Geography, Tourism Geography
Keywords: relevance, National Park Service, tourism, visitation, parks, social network analysis, qualitative methods, mixed methods, Vermont, New Hampshire, Upper Valley, cultural resources
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Palladian, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


National parks often attract destination visitors but are challenged connecting with local residents. Locals, however, have opportunity for everyday leisure in the park and thus potentially create deep attachments to and stewardship of it through repeated engagements. This disparity is especially prominent in small national historic sites, which tend to attract destination visitors with niche interests. How, then, can a small historic park work with local communities to enhance its geographic relevance? Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site (SAGA) in New Hampshire provides an opportunity to examine ways to bridge this disparity. SAGA primarily attracts an older, non-local audience interested in sculptures and numismatics; 60% of the visitors are 60 or older. Working with the park, I conducted focus groups to elicit locally-sourced tangents of relevance with five target audiences in the Upper Connecticut River Valley: neighbors (n=12), educators (n=21), families (n=6), generations X and Millennial (n=11), and organizations (n=24). I also conducted a social network analysis with these organizations and others (n=48; 92% response rate). Three findings illustrate main learnings from this mixed-methods investigation. First, situating the park’s goals as contributory to the Upper Valley’s is key, including supporting target audiences’ shared and singular values and visions. Second, enhancing site offerings to attract locals requires understanding the park as a venue and adequately advertising it as such. Third, organizations want to collaborate to promote a more vibrant Upper Valley and the park can build local capacity by both acting as a convener and targeting communications with key brokers in the collective.

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