Nature Centers in Local Communities: Perceived Values, Support Factors, and Visitation Constraints

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation examines three relationships between nature centers and their local communities. First, what are the values provided by local centers as perceived by community members? Second, what factors lead community members to support local centers? And third, what are the constraints to visiting local centers as perceived by community members? We surveyed random samples of community members living around 16 diverse nature centers across the United States and conducted quantitative and qualitative analyses to address these questions. Chapter one introduces the study and provides a literature review of theories and empirical research related to the research questions. Chapter two reports the results of an exploratory factor analysis on the level of importance communities assign to fourteen nature center services. The factor analysis revealed four underlying values: environmental connection, leisure provision, civic engagement, and community resilience. Chapter three tests sixteen hypothesized predictors of community support for nature centers. All these variables were significant, suggesting people volunteer at, donate to, or respond to threats at nature centers for a range of reasons. These include those related to supporting nature center missions (e.g. environmental connection significance and commitment to nature) but also other reasons such as friends' and family's perceptions of nature centers and assessments of the center staff members. Chapter four explores constraints that emerge during different stages of the decision-making process people go through when considering whether or not to visit a local nature center. The greatest constraints emerge in early stages (e.g. center awareness) and late stages (e.g. limited finances, transportation, and time) of decision-making. Chapter five discusses the study's implications to theory, including ecosystem service and educational leisure setting valuation, environmentally significant and charitable support behavior, and leisure constraints, as well as nature center practice. Centers that consider these implications might better serve their local communities and achieve their missions.



Nature centers, environmental education, educational leisure settings, environmental values, nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, volunteering, visitor constraints