Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Dynamic, Emergent, and Multi-Phasic Nature of On-Site Wilderness Experiences

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Dynamic, Emergent, and Multi-Phasic Nature of On-Site Wilderness Experiences

Article excerpt

Introduction

A recent special issue of JIA devoted to leisure as having multiple phases, noted that leisure might best be viewed as emerging states of mind, as a sequence of transactions between individuals and their environment, as personal stories with temporal and spatial qualities, and as a lived experience (Stewart 1998). Given this perspective on leisure, Stewart cites several disconnections between multiphase leisure and philosophical, theoretical, and methodological traditions within the leisure research community. He then goes on to issue challenges to the leisure research community if it is to embrace the revised perspective.

The study reported here on the multiphasic nature of trips into the Okefenokee Wilderness in southern Georgia begins to address some of Stewart's challenges. The first is that leisure is purported to not simply be a state of mind; it is instead states of mind. These states of mind might, for example, include several types of positive emotions, personal meanings associated with the challenges of leisure environments, and cognitions related to such things as way-finding during leisure travel. Second, these multiple states are dynamic, evolving, and dependent in part on context. Finally, research methods that attempt to measure the dynamic, evolving, and contextual states of leisure must necessarily be innovative and deserve further experimentation and development.

Thus, this study employed innovative research methods and technologies to address three basic questions:

* Research Question 1: What leisure states of mind are measurable during a wilderness experience?

* Research Question 2: Are these leisure states of mind dynamic and evolving during the course of a wilderness experience?

* Research Question 3: Can the leisure states of mind be characterized as multiphasic during the on-site experience? More specifically, are there distinct entry, immersion, and exit phases that occur during the on-site experience?

Study Site

The 354,000-acre Okefenokee Wilderness seems almost an ideal site to address the study questions. First of all, wilderness areas are almost by definition complex, diverse environments. Of all places on earth, they are places where the evolutionary forces of nature are most able to operate freely. At least at the landscape level, this would tend to promote conditions or contexts of diversity. This provides recreationists with a variety of challenging and calming stimuli. Okefenokee Wilderness is also a swamp, a wetland wilderness of alligators, panthers, and black bears. Such ecosystems have both very high levels of biodiversity and are strange environments for humans. The process of entry into such an environment, becoming acclimatized to it, and then leaving it would seem to provide ample opportunity for changes and phases in states of mind or states of leisure. Okefenokee is also big; reaching its interior and finding its story takes time and effort. During hours and days of paddling, there is ample opportunity for introspection, for sharing emotions with companions, for focus on the task of travel, or for attending to the natural environment. The Okefenokee experience would seem to be complex, emergent, and to evolve across time.

The study site is also a unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System. As such, according to the Wilderness Act of 1964, it is managed to provide opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation (PL 88-577). At first glance, this legal mandate may seem to limit the complexity of leisure experiences. Indeed, managers at Okefenokee in their efforts to limit the negative impacts of recreationists on naturalness and on opportunities for solitude, have limited the number of overnight users, assigned travel routes, and assigned camp spots. But management is a balancing act because there is also a mandate for "unconfined recreation," for allowing the human-nature transaction to unfold freely. …

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