The socio-cultural meanings of outdoor recreation: an exploration of Hispanic recreation experiences on the forests of Southern California

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Outdoor recreation on national forests near large urban centers is changing and diversifying as users of many ethnic and racial backgrounds increasingly choose urban-proximate forests as recreation sites. These changes are particularly evident on the national forests of Southern California where large numbers of individuals of Hispanic origins are utilizing dispersed, relatively undeveloped sites for day-use recreation activities including picnicking, barbecuing, and swimming. This usage is the focus of the study.

Previous studies of outdoor recreation participation have treated ethnic group membership as a unidimensional, categorical variable. Using a social structural model, this study more fully explores inter- and intra-ethnic differences by examining the role of ancestry, generational status, and acculturation in influencing recreation experiences. Additionally, the study attempts a more holistic exploration of recreation experiences, including their meaning and significance as a way of more fully understanding the experience from the visitor's point of view.

The study uses a combination of quantitative (on-site, self-administered surveys) and qualitative (semi-structured interviews and observations) methods to accomplish these objectives.

From the results of the study it appears that Hispanic visitors to the study sites vary in terms of their structural characteristics. Certain forest sites are visited primarily by relatively unacculturated immigrants to the United States, with few Anglos or more acculturated Hispanic present. Other areas are composed of more acculturated individuals of longer generational tenure.

In addition to structural variation in the study site's Hispanic visitors, there is also variation in meanings and preferences related to the recreation experience. Among the variables examined were past use history, social group composition, primary reason for the visit, what respecting the forest means, and place attachment. The largest differences among the study's respondents in the above questions were found between those of Anglo and Central American descent. Among the study's findings are that those of Anglo descent come to the sites more frequently and had been doing so for a longer time, are in smaller groups, and are less attached to the sites than those of Hispanic descent. Considerable structural differences between the two primarily Hispanic ancestral groups were revealed. The Central American response group contained more individuals born outside the United States and of lower acculturation levels. Hispanic participants born outside the United States were more dissimilar to Anglos in their responses to the questions related to recreation experiences than those born in the United States.