The Regional Review

Volume IV - No. 3

March, 1940

Dividends From Park Use Planning

Park Planner
Division of State Parks
Tennessee Department of Conservation

During the last two years Tennessee has been experimenting with a planned program of stimulating and guiding the use of its state parks through leadership and group contact activities. Initiated tentatively in 1938, the program did not reach its full scope until last year. Actual records now show that it almost doubled both attendance and participation in activities and that it is rapidly creating a park consciousness in the public mind.

In addition, it is helping to arouse a keener interest in conservation by instilling a greater respect for nature in the minds of thousands of park visitors by giving them enjoyable experiences in the out-of-doors. As a result of the success of the program, planned recreation has been accepted as a permanent administrative policy of the Division of State Parks of the Department of Conservation.

The program is not a hair-brained scheme plucked out of thin air. It evolved slowly as a result of experience, observation and careful study of the recreational habits and needs of the state's population. It was based on a knowledge that a vast majority of Tennessee's 2,600,000 people have had little opportunity to acquire interests and skills in the out-door forms of recreation. It was established through observation that park visitors were motivated largely by curiosity rather than recreational interests. A large number of these recorded during the first year stood around throughout their stay, gaping wistfully at the few who engaged in activities. While some of them no doubt were entertained by what they saw, as a spectator enjoys his indirect participation in a ball game, the majority nevertheless went away not to return---good evidence that the park was not providing something which they went there to get. This led to a conclusion that, if the parks were to afford the maximum use of each resource and each facility, and if they were to serve the greatest number of persons, then a certain amount of educational effort was needed to acquaint visitors with recreational opportunities. We believed such work could be accomplished only through a planned program of appropriate character carried out under capable leadership.

Since the Division of State Parks was just initiating its park operation and since funds were low and personnel inadequate, it became necessary to look elsewhere for the leadership that was required. Accordingly, when the director of the Work Projects Administration's State Division of Recreation volunteered cooperation in the establishment of a recreational program on the new park areas by providing assistance from his administrative staff, which included specialists, district supervisors and the director himself, his offer was accepted eagerly. In addition, a man and woman leader were obtained for each of the four areas which were open to the public. They were furnished quarters at the park and placed under supervision of the park superintendent. Besides providing leadership service, they acted as good will ambassadors, assisting patrons in every manner possible, especially in interpreting the features of the park and explaining the extent of the program offered. The women leaders acted also as hostesses at the lodge and other gathering points.

map of Tennessee Recreational Facilities
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The program was planned to accomplish the following objectives:

(1) Give a maximum of suitable leisure-time activities to our people;
(2) Increase participation in activities;
(3) Increase general park attendance;
(4) Maintain a high rate of attendance during week-days and off-seasons;
(5) Establish the habit of repeat visits by patrons, and
(6) Utilize to the best advantage the natural resources of each of the state's parks.

The plan was inaugurated with the opening of the first parks in July, 1938, but during the first year its scope was limited to rendering the services already enumerated and to a careful study of park patron habits and interests. At the close of the season work was begun on the formulation of a year-around program. The following steps were evolved and approached in the order of their sequence, the field work being done by the park superintendent and a trained recreation leader.

(1) A 15-, 25- and 50-mile highway zone was established around each park in operation.

(2) The compilation of a list of all groups and organizations functioning together as a body and lying within this 50-mile zone was begun. At the same time information concerning the size, nature, time of regular meeting and type of program was obtained. Whether the agency sponsored or participated in recreational activities was recorded. Groups of divers types, such as luncheon clubs, social clubs, 4-H Clubs, Home Demonstration Clubs, music clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Reserves, were included.

(3) Each group was contacted through its presiding officer by mail or by personal interview of the park personnel. Letters were used at first for the smaller and more remote groups to describe the advantages of the park facilities and recreation program. They were shown how their own program might be elaborated or stimulated by the various activities of the park conducted under competent leadership. Similar information was given to larger groups in talks by park representatives. In many cases the lectures were illustrated with the state park motion picture, The Dawn of a New Day, which depicts in natural colors the activities enjoyed in the parks and shows how the visitors engage in them. Many new recreational pursuits thus were demonstrated for persons possessing varied interests. Their curiosity and desire for such experiences were aroused.

(4) They then were invited to the park to engage in some activity in which they already were well versed, or for some new program. They became familiar gradually with the new enterprise and eventually each group became independent to a great extent as far as leadership at the area was concerned. Each person soon sought his favorite activity on repeat visits.

(5) As each group contacted came to the area a complete record was made of the number, age, sex, activities chosen, and the extent of assistance given by the park personnel. A special record was kept of each repeat visit when members of the group appeared together.

(6) Informal groups and individuals coming to the park were assisted in some activity and the leaders, though careful not to impose their aid on the patron, were alert to help anyone showing interest in some particular pursuit.

(7) District conferences for Work Projects Administration leaders were held at several state parks. This not only acquainted them with actual demonstrations of perk activities but also caused them to take their enthusiasm and information back to the communities in which they lived, thereby encouraging many more persons in the use of the areas.

(8) Specialists from the state office of the Work Projects Administration were assigned to state parks at intervals to stimulate and promote interest in handcraft and social and other activities.


The results achieved at Cedar of Lebanon State Park, a typical area, illustrates the general effectiveness of the program. During the first year (1938) of operation by the state the park had little leadership and no community educational work. During the 1937 season, before the formal opening, less than 10 per cent of the visitors engaged in activities and the attendance was low despite people's curiosity concerning the new development.

In the 1938-39 season, recreational guidance in activities was provided by a well trained leader and the park superintendent. Group contact and community educational work had not been carried on, however, before the fall of 1938. Participation in activities that year was 53 per cent of the total attendance. In 1939, after this plan had been set in action and group contact work was carried on through the winter, participation increased to 84 per cent of total attendance. Attendance itself increased 79 per cent.

A soft drink bottling firm may be cited to illustrate the effects of this program on a typical group, and the advantages of advanced planning. The president of the company, who was acquainted with the park program, brought a group of 150 persons to the area. The park superintendent and recreational leader prepared an all-day program varied in nature and fitted to the interests of the group. As a result of the success of the venture this park has been chosen for the company's annual outing.

During the winter of 1938-39 one hundred sixty-seven different organizations were contacted, forty-seven of them by personal interview. Of the forty-seven, thirty-five came to the park during the past summer. Of the 120 remaining groups, seventy-eight have visited the park.

It is difficult to make statistical tabulations of the entire results because, as is true in any creative work, there are many intangible elements. The indirect effect of the group contact work may be cited as an example. A good many of the individuals who came with the various groups had never been to the park before. After the first visit many of them returned a number of times, bringing their families and friends, or a church, civic, social or school group to which they belonged. At Cedar of Lebanon State Park 75 per cent of those in attendance on a date when a check was taken were repeat visitors.

Due to the many elusive factors influencing a program of this kind, no attempt has been made to show the cause and effects of every step taken. We may conclude from the results shown to date, however, that the plan is making a definite contribution to a more widespread and intelligent use of our parks, and a more alert interest in conservation.

Planned recreation has become a definite part of the state park program in Tennessee. Present evidence indicates that it provides a more effective method of conserving human resources and that, at the same time, it decreases the danger of destroying scenic resources . We feel, as do others who are close to our problem, that an encouraging advance has been made toward solving the recreation question in the state. It is felt that better service is being performed for the public.

[All photographs by courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Conservation]


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Date: 04-Jul-2002