Preliminary Assessment of the Relevance of Nature Centers in the 21st Century
Higgins, Marian Ellen
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In the 1960s a movement by the National Audubon Society encouraged growing communities to set aside a portion of undeveloped land to be used as nature centers to teach conservation and natural history while allowing people to cultivate an understanding and appreciation of nature. This research responds to the need for a greater understanding of who is visiting nature centers in the 21st century and why. A key question is whether or not nature centers have kept up with changing times and advancing technologies. No research has been conducted to determine if nature centers are still relevant today to a society accustomed to living and learning electronically in a virtual reality. In order to determine who visits nature centers and why, a questionnaire was developed and administered to Members and Non-members of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge (FWNC) of Fort Worth, TX. It was determined that visitors to the FWNC were not representative of the general population of the surrounding area. They were older, predominantly white, and had higher education levels. Using the membership in a Friends organization as a representative population of nature center visitors, it was determined that the Non-member visitors were similar to the Members except that they were younger. Members visited the FWNC with a higher degree of frequency than Non-members, but there was no difference in degree of visitation to other nature centers. Both groups identified "lack of time" as the primary barrier to increased visitation. Members appeared to be seeking specific, educational experiences compared to Non-members who tended to seek more general, recreational experiences. Members had more specific knowledge about benefits and services that the FWNC provided the community. Overall, both groups were satisfied with their visits, with Members having a more defined set of expectations and a higher level of satisfaction. This preliminary assessment suggests that nature centers continue to be a relevant source for education, recreation and relaxation, and continue to remain a unique resource in keeping 21st century society connected to the nature world.