Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Forest and Conservation Science

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Norma Nickerson

Commitee Members

Wayne Freimund, Elizabeth Covelli Metcalf, Douglas Dalenberg, Justin Angle


University of Montana


The National Park Service (NPS) is currently beginning the celebration of 100 years as a formal agency. Yellowstone National Park, the world’s 1st national park, catered to over 4 million visitors during 2015. Visitation is rising, but there are underlying issues that are highlighted in a recent guiding document; Revisiting Leopold (2012). Congressional budgets are decreasing, younger generations are losing interest in nature, and diverse populations have yet to become fully vested in the NPS. Realizing these pressing issues, Yellowstone sought to understand ways in which visitors can support the park and how to engage visitors to create long-lasting relationships.

The purpose of this study was to investigate how current park visitors support Yellowstone and the reasons they choose to do so. Using three primary constructs, visitors were asked to rate their opinions on place attachment, autobiographical memory, and park support. Autobiographical memory is a form of long-term memory that focuses on the personal recollections of specific experiences. Place attachment is an emotional bond between a person and a place. Finally, park support is a new concept and is defined as direct and indirect actions that sustain the ecological and social functions of national parks. Visitors were stopped at the five exit gates of Yellowstone and asked if they wished to participate in this study. In total, 2,216 visitors were given mail-back surveys with 802 surveys returned to the researchers for a response rate of 36 percent.

It was hypothesized that autobiographical memory was significantly related to place attachment and that place attachment was significantly related to park support. Using confirmatory factor analysis, the scale used to measure autobiographical memory from psychology did not have the same structure as previously found. An alternative one-factor model of autobiographical memory salience was identified instead. Furthermore, autobiographical memory salience was found to be highly predictive of place attachment. Finally, the full structural equation model was found to be highly significant. Autobiographical memory directly predicted place attachment and indirect support. Place identity significantly predicted indirect support and place dependence significantly predicted direct support. Therefore, creating exceptional experiences leads to higher place attachment and higher support.

Future research should focus on identifying what types of experiences lead to high memory salience. Managers can use these results to further attempt to identify methods of improving park support by providing transformative visitor experiences and targeting visitors memory triggers to entice visitation. The goal of this study is to provide a transferable framework for park scholars and managers to use into the future and help sustain America’s “best idea”.



© Copyright 2016 Jacob Daniel Jorgenson