Meeting visitor interest to advance conservation: A study from Indiana Dunes National Park, USA

Merson, M., Valoura, L., Forist, B. E, Hristov, N. I, & Allen, L. C.
(2023). Meeting visitor interest to advance conservation: A study from Indiana Dunes National Park, USA. Parks Stewardship Forum, 39(3). Retrieved from


Thousands of visitors to parks take part in ranger-led programs annually. During these programs rangers work to evoke and maintain interest in order to connect visitors with cultural and natural resources. Researchers have found interest is a powerful driver of learning, yet its role in the experience of adults who participate in ranger-led programming has not been well studied. Open-ended telephone interviews conducted months after a ranger-led hike to a prominent dune in Indiana Dunes National Park illustrate the extent to which visitors’ recollections show continuity with their reasons for attending the ranger-led hike and their uptake of resource messages. Like other ranger-led programming, this hike was designed to make intellectual and emotional connections, to fuel long-held interests, and activate new stewards. The program was the result of collaboration among rangers and local scientists. Responses to a pre-hike survey were matched with post-hike recollections transcribed following an open-ended phone interview. The vast majority of post-hike interviews revealed a match between hike participants’ initial interests and recollected details of the experience as well as new areas of piqued interest. In post-hike reflections, visitors mentioned factors that influenced the dune’s formation, and the majority mentioned the problems caused by trampling. Participants recruited for this study grasped and recollected resource messages connected to their interests. They spoke of the need to protect a popular and puzzling geological formation.