The Influence of Visitor Characteristics on State Park Physical Activity Levels

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Journal of Park and Recreation Administration






Sagamore Publishing LLC

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Parks represent a promising setting from which to study and increase physical activity levels. Despite this promise, few investigations have examined user characteristics and recreation experience preferences in relation to park-based physical activity levels. This study measured self-reported physical activity at several state parks and examined the extent that visitor sociodemographics, recreation behaviors, and recreation experience preferences were related to park-based physical activity at moderate and vigorous levels. Systematic sampling was employed to survey visitors at six Pennsylvania state parks (N = 1,139 visitors representing an 82% response rate). Visitors provided information on their sociodemographics (e.g., age, income), behaviors (e.g., use frequency, park activity types), and experience preferences (e.g., nature connection, physical fitness, social relationships). Furthermore, respondents were asked questions about their participation in vigorous and moderate physical activity at the park during their visit. Visitors who indicated moderate and vigorous physical activity were also asked about the number of minutes for each activity level, and this was converted to minutes per visit day. Logistic regression was used to examine the extent that sociodemographics, behaviors, and experience preferences predicted participation in moderate and in vigorous activity during the park visit. Multiple linear regression was used to examine whether these variables predicted minutes of participation in moderate activity. Respondents were more likely to participate in moderate (59%) rather than vigorous (16%) physical activity levels during their park visit. Mean selfreported minutes of moderate physical activity was 47.7 minutes per visit day (including those who reported 0 minutes of moderate activity) and 72.8 minutes among those who participated in moderate activity. Mean minutes of vigorous activity was 9.6 minutes per visit day (including those reporting 0 minutes of vigorous activity) and 54.8 minutes among those who participated in vigorous activity. Thirty seven percent reported no physical activity during their state park visit (e.g., no moderate and no vigorous activity). Education, picnicking, camping, hiking, walking, and physical fitness motives were positively related to participation in moderate park-based physical activity. Among those who participated in moderate activity, hiking, and walking were positively related to minutes in moderate activity per visit day, while picnicking and the nature connection motive were negatively related to minutes in moderate activity per visit day. Income, education, challenge/ adventure motives, and physical fitness motives were positively related to participation in vigorous park-based physical activity, while age, beach use, walking, nature connection, and relationship building motives were negatively related to vigorous activity participation. Results suggested that demographics, activity type, and desired psychological experience preferences played a significant role in shaping park-based physical activity levels, but their influence varied depending on the intensity level (moderate vs. vigorous) and duration. Agencies that wish to increase park-based physical activity should consider these findings in their efforts to make parks more attractive to people whose characteristics, recreation activities, and desired experiences correspond with different levels of physical activity. To sustain or increase participation in moderate activity during state park visits, managers could promote camping as a way to be active in parks as well as provide walking and hiking opportunities. These facility, program, and promotional efforts could target visitors with lower education profiles, as they were less likely to engage in moderate activity. Study results demonstrated that picnicking and camping were not necessarily synonymous with sedentary behavior, and managers should be cautious in de-emphasizing these recreation opportunities because they could be associated with other types of physical activity within state parks. State park agencies that wish to incorporate more participation in vigorous activity at their parks could target older and low income visitors in their promotions and increase the provision of facilities and features that promote challenge/adventure-based and physical fitness opportunities that would fulfill the experience preferences of vigorously active park visitors. As researchers continue to examine the contextual factors that influence park-based physical activity levels, they will be better positioned to provide sound policy and managerial guidance to achieve physical activity goals through public parks

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