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Deploying Harmony to Save Parks

Deploying Harmony to Save Parks

Fifth-grade students learn about the forest environment at Hobbs State Park – Conservation Area in northwest Arkansas.
Photo by Gregory Benton.

According to University of Arkansas researcher, Gregory Benton, park interpreters can design programs to minimize negative effects from outside visitors to parks and educate visitors for the future.

Benton, an assistant professor in recreation and sports management, relates his research to the Hawaiian concept of “pono,” which means living in harmony and righteousness with the environment and incorporating the values of cultural equality and natural resource stewardship.

He studied sites in Arkansas, New Mexico and Georgia where interpretive programs are conveying positive goals of cultural and natural resource agencies. For example, fifth-grade science students from an elementary school in Springdale, Ark., took field trips over a six-month period to a nearby state park. The program was designed to immerse young people in the forest environment to help their generation maintain collective knowledge of the importance of the outdoors so they could pass it on to the next generation.

He identified three things that could minimize negative damage to parks in the programs he studied: preservation of tangible and intangible indigenous culture, modifying recreation behavior to maintain natural resource quality, and exposing children to values that promote harmony through interpretive immersion in nature.

“Interpretive programs not only connect visitors to resources but are able to dispel indigenous myths and carry messages regarding the balancing of freshwater recreation for the sake of maintaining the integrity of the natural resource,” Benton said.

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