Date of Award

12-2007

Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Forest Resources

Advisor

John Daigle

Second Committee Member

Jessica Leahy

Third Committee Member

Richard Judd

Abstract

Motivated by interest and concern over the changing coastline in Maine, this study uses the concept of sense of place to develop an understanding of how a range of users share the resource, and to explore how place meanings are associated with their social experiences and perceptions. The site for this study was the Stonington region archipelago, an area that has not yet experienced the same amount of development as seen on the southern Maine coast, yet one that has witnessed a boom in recreational use and an influx of people from other areas. Using a mixed methodology, two groups of research questions were developed with the purpose of developing an understanding of how place meanings are constructed over time in a changing landscape, and how managers and community interests can benefit from this information. A visitor survey was completed to investigate the connection between landscape characteristics, socio-demographic, and travel characteristics, previous experience, and attachment to place. During the summer of 2006, 435 visitors to 23 islands participated in the two-part survey, which included an on-site interview and a mail-back questionnaire. Twenty-three in-depth interviews were conducted with long-term visitors, transplants (people who have moved to the region) and locals to explore sense of place over time, and the connection between place meanings and user compatibility. Results from the visitor survey indicated that regardless of level of attachment, study participants were most attracted to the physical landscape and least to the local culture of the area. Differences in place attachment based on travel and socio-demographic characteristics were often linked to local experience. Findings from the interviews also suggested the physical environment was an important draw, and continues to be an important component of why participants, including locals with ancestral roots, stay in or visit the region over time. Participants in each groups also felt drawn to the community, and compatibility issues on the water were affected by experiences in the surrounding communities. This highlights the need for recreation researchers to cast a wide enough net to understand how dynamics in surrounding communities might influence social experiences within recreation areas.