Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Deserai Crow

Second Advisor

Amanda Carrico

Third Advisor

Sharon Collinge

Fourth Advisor

Marianne Krasny

Fifth Advisor

Steve Vanderheiden


Though outdoor recreationists have not always been viewed as environmentalists, a latent potential exists to leverage outdoor recreation as a means toward cultivating environmental values and empowering communities to work collectively toward addressing environmental solutions. Evidence of this promise is emerging through examples of civic recreation – recreation-based stewardship and advocacy aimed at preserving, creating, and restoring recreational resources - that has gained significant traction in the past twenty years. Drawing from a mixed-method research design that combines a comparative case study of local civic recreation organizations with survey research, this dissertation aims to describe civic recreation in practice and explore how it fits into the larger environmental project of the 21st century. Specifically, the first goal is to understand why, how, and to what end these organizations emerge and function. Secondly, I explore the motivations of the individuals who volunteer for civic recreation practices and outcomes they report from their volunteer efforts. Finally, I attempt to unpack the complex nexus between outdoor recreation and environmentalism more broadly. I find that civic recreation organizations emerge either out of a threat to access or the vision of an innovative leader who seeks to create a recreational resource. These organizations primarily focus on direct stewardship, collaboration with land managers, and innovative private-public partnerships for the purposes of preserving or creating recreational resources. This model offers promise to an era of collaborative and community-based natural resource management. At the individual level, I find that civic recreation volunteers are highly motivated by their desire to make a difference, express their environmental values, and enhance their community through recreation. Through volunteering, individuals report positive outcomes such as enhanced self-efficacy and learning, a deepened connection to nature and place, and a strengthened community of collaborative and shared responsibility for its natural resources. These findings are significant, as civic recreation volunteers may not see themselves as advancing an environmental or conservation agenda. Therefore, individuals may stumble into conservation and environmental citizenship through their passion for outdoor recreation.