Publication details [#3882]

Davenport, Mae A. 2003. Mixing metaphors: A community-based vision for the Niobrara National Scenic River. Minneapolis; Minn.. 122 pp.


This study employed an interpretive approach to document the perspectives of local community residents on the Niobrara National Scenic River (NSR) and river valley in north central Nebraska. Specific study objectives were to: (1) identify local community members' connections to the river, (2) explore the meanings community members ascribe to the river, and (3) examine community members' perceptions of the river and river management. Developing a shared management vision among stakeholders is central to natural resources management. Understanding local community residents' perspectives and vision for the management of a natural area is especially important. Past research has shown that one's sense of place represents the coalescence of a place's characteristics, the personal and social activities conducted within the context of a place, and the psychological and political processes associated with a place. For some sense of place reflects a strong emotional bond or attachment. Research in natural resources science and management has shown that attachments to natural areas can influence perceptions, attitudes, and behavior related to natural resource management. Natural resource decision making that ignores a local community's place-based meanings and emotional attachments may create discord and spark distrust within the community, which may potentially compromise the ecological integrity of the area. Effective management demands a comprehensive and holistic exploration of community meanings and perceptions from the community member perspective. Twenty-five semi-structured interviews were conducted with local community members during the summer of 2002. Interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed for common themes, patterns, and relationships. Study findings revealed a web of meanings ascribed to the Niobrara River comprised of four underlying dimensions: river as oasis, tonic, identity, and nature. The web of meanings also framed participants' perceptions of landscape and community change. The study validated diverse perspectives and identified common ground. Several themes emerged in participants' perceptions of management that should guide future public involvement processes and inform decision making. The study also contributed to theory by providing a holistic, context-specific and integrative conceptual framework for the place-based meanings fundamental to sense of place and place attachment. (Mae Davenport)