Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Member Spotlight: Kristi McLeod Fondren, Ph.D

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Member Spotlight: Kristi McLeod Fondren, Ph.D

Article excerpt

Kristi McLeod Fondren is accustomed to navigating forks in the road, both literal and metaphorical. While pursuing her Ph.D. through the educational psychology program at Mississippi State University (MSU), Fondren encountered a divergent path that would significantly impact her career and area of study. "I was taking [an] environment and society [course] due to personal interest and love of the outdoors," she explains. The subject matter recalled family camping excursions from Fondren's childhood, as well as early work experiences just outside of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. "It was in this class that I thought, 'You mean I can do what I love in sociology and have it work for me?' That semester I applied and was accepted into [MSU's] doctoral program in sociology." Almost a decade after earning her credentials and almost 20 years into her personal exploration of hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT), Fondren focuses her work on the "leisure subculture of long-distance hiking/backpacking." Her recently released book, Walking on the Wild Side: Long Distance Hiking on the Appalachian Trail, explores motivations and experiences of extreme hiking in a natural environment and earned Fondren the 2016 Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt Award for Excellence in Recreation and Park Research, for which she will be recognized during the 2016 NRPA Annual Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. We asked Fondren to elaborate on her work--following is a portion of our conversation.

Parks & Recreation magazine: What inspired you to write Walking on the Wild Side: Long Distance Hiking on the Appalachian Trail?

Kristi McLeod Fondren: I recalled there being a unique community [on the AT] and thought that while I was hiking I should interview long-distance hikers about their experiences on the trail, as well as their relationships with fellow hikers --both perfect areas of study for my discipline. The main reason I wanted to interview long-distance hikers (thru-hikers and section hikers) in particular was because most of the academic studies on the AT at the time focused primarily on hikers' attachment to the AT. These studies found that thru-hikers are more attached than other user types; however, thru-hikers would be omitted from data analysis because they only made up about 2-3 percent of users. While I understood this, I found it strange that in studies of place attachment, place identity and behavioral loyalty, those who had the stronger social and emotional ties to the AT would be omitted. With the book I aimed to give voice to a group of hikers that otherwise had been left out.

P&R: Much of your work addresses the significance of place on our well-being and sense of self. …

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