Place Needs and Client Outcomes of Wilderness Experience Programs in Maine: A Descriptive-Interpretive Approach
Author(s)Hannon, James G.
KeywordsOutward bound schools
Wilderness experience programs
Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration
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AbstractThis thesis presents the findings of a qualitative inquiry into the relationship between place qualities and program outcomes for the wilderness experience programs (WEPs) operating in Maine, conducted in March-May of 2003. It responds to the question, "From the perspective of the wilderness experience program provider, what are the qualities of place that contribute to the best client outcomes?" WEPs are businesses that take clients into backcountry settings for the purpose of developing human potential through activities such as personal growth, education, therapy, spiritual contemplation, and leadership-organizational development. WEPs offer a range of benefits to individual participants, groups of participants, participants' families and to society at large. These benefits have physiological, psychological, spiritual, economic and ecological dimensions. The most commonly reported outcomes of wilderness experience programs are improvements in self-concept and empowerment; improvements in group function; and sense of wellness and spiritual feelings of connection to some larger unified whole. In the case of those WEPs that work with youth-at-risk the benefits to society are considerable. WEPs have existed in Maine since the late 1800s, with historical roots in the youth camping movement and sporting camp traditions. The demand for WEP has increased worldwide since at least 1960, and is projected to continue growing. Because Maine has extensive, undeveloped lands in close proximity to the densely populated urban centers of the U.S and Canada, its WEP industry is well situated to profit from this demand, so long as necessary lands are available for programmatic use. The study answered the research question by employing face-to-face, semi-structured interviews with 15 program directors from 12 different WEPs. These individuals described in detail the places that produce the best client outcomes. They also discussed what makes these ideal places different from acceptable and unacceptable places, and explained how client outcomes differ in less-than-ideal places. These interviews were transcribed verbatim, and the author interpreted the descriptive data through a basic-interpretive method that utilized qualitative software and analytical/reflexive journaling as the tools of analysis. Four major dimensions of place emerged: Social Conditions, Environmental Conditions, Campsite Conditions, Managerial Conditions. Each of these dimensions contains numerous sub-dimensions. Presentation of extensive quotations in each sub.