- Grandfather Mountain (North Carolina) has been attracting people from all over the world since it opened as a park in 1952. In addition to its mild summer climate, extreme weather patterns, and breathtaking views, Grandfather Mountain is an area of high ecological significance. Although the Grandfather Mountain Steward Foundation (GMSF) (one of several organizations that manage Grandfather Mountain) routinely has more than 250,000 visitors per year, it is important to manage and protect the unique biodiversity that this park has to offer.
The primary objectives of this study were to understand: (a) how well visitors perceive that the GMSF is managing natural resources and visitor experiences in this park, and (b) the best ways for informing visitors about the natural resources within this park. Other areas of focus were visitor motivations and satisfaction, quality of interpretive opportunities, and social and demographic characteristics of visitors.
An online questionnaire was created and sent via email invitations to all recipients of the GMSF’s eNewsletter (n = 799). The majority of respondents were White/Caucasian (96%), 60 years of age and older (59%), female (58%), and residents of North Carolina (73%). Almost all respondents (96%) had visited Grandfather Mountain before where their three favorite locations were the Mile High Swinging Bridge/Linville Peak (39%), hiking trails (25%), and Animal Habitats (21%). The primary motivations of respondents for visiting the park were the scenery/views (33%), recreation opportunities (16%), being in nature (13%), and spending time with family (12%).
Overall satisfaction of respondents was high with 94% satisfied (74% very satisfied) with
their visit(s) to the park. Importance-performance (IP) analysis of 33 general park opportunities,natural resource management attributes, and learning opportunities showed that all were in the “keep up the good work” quadrant with respondents rating all of these attributes as important and being satisfied with all of these attributes. Some attributes, however, were highly important to respondents, but they were only slightly satisfied with these attributes (e.g., variety of activities, hiking opportunities, number of trails, accessibility, family-friendly facilities and services, number and quality of rule/regulation signs and interpretive signs).
In total, 73% of respondents had either slight or moderate knowledge of natural resource management actions in park settings, and 19% had no knowledge. In addition, 28% of respondents had observed behaviors of other visitors that reduced the quality of their visits, and 27% had seen other visitors going off-trail or entering closed areas. Respondents were most interested in learning about natural resource management in this area from exhibits in the Nature Museum (78%), face-to-face interactions with staff (76%), and educational or interpretive signs (71%).
These results can inform the GMSF management decisions, including best practices to protect the park’s natural resources. Although the results showed that GMSF is doing a good job, some recommendations for management are discussed, including: (a) using best practices for informing visitors, (b) training more staff about ways for informing visitors about natural resource management, (c) tapping into motivations for visiting the park to improve experiences, (d) dispersing visitation to different areas of the park, and (e) diversifying the demographics of eNewsletter recipients.