Peri-Urban National Parks as Green Spaces for Recreation: A Case Study of Nature Park Shumen Plateau

Peri-Urban National Parks as Green Spaces for Recreation: A Case Study of Nature Park Shumen Plateau

Teodora Koynova (Konstantin Preslavski University of Shumen, Shumen, Bulgaria), Vanya Koleva (Konstantin Preslavski University of Shumen, Shumen, Bulgaria), Asya P. Dragoeva (Faculty of Natural Sciences, Konstantin Preslavski University of Shumen, Shumen, Bulgaria) and Nikolay Natchev (Konstantin Preslavski University of Shumen, Shumen, Bulgaria)
DOI: 10.4018/IJSESD.2019010104
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Little is known regarding the significance for local people of peri-urban national parks as recreational areas. The main goal of the present article is to evaluate the social impact and importance of peri-urban parks for visitors as a green space for outdoor recreation. For this investigation on-site, face-to-face interviews were conducted. The main reason for visiting NP are: “to be near to nature” (64.71%), “to practice sport” (58.09%) and “relaxing” (43.38%). Spending time in NP is considered by most interviewed people to be of crucial importance both for physical (96.32%) and for mental (83.82%) health. It should be noted that high frequency of park visits was reported only by young, employed and well-educated people. Data collected shows that park management plan should encourage low-income groups (unemployed and elderly) to use outdoor recreation as a part of preventive healthcare. The access for older adults, people with disabilities and children to the park should be facilitated. Services like access to clean water, toilets and seating places must be improved. The data from the authors' survey could be useful for the peri-urban national parks development as green spaces for promoting health among all demographic groups of local inhabitants.
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In modern industrialized world, notably in countries of the European Union, the majority of population lives in urban areas (Kabisch & Haase, 2013). The typical urban scenes can negatively impact human health (McCracken, Allen, & Gow, 2016). These effects can be compensated by exposure to natural environment. From this point of view Thompson (2011) treats the natural environment as a resource which is important for the overall wellbeing of humans.

In the last decades the outdoor recreation has become very popular worldwide (Tzoulas & James, 2010; Koppen, Sang, & Tveit, 2014). The positive impact of green spaces not only on the physical, but also on the mental health of the urban population is well investigated (Pikora, Giles-Corti, Bull, Jamrozik, & Donovan, 2003; Crawford et al., 2008; Nutsford, Pearson, & Kingham, 2013; McCracken et al., 2016). As pointed by McCracken et al., (2016), so called ‘Stress Recovery Theory’ stated that via intensive contact to nature some symptoms of stress and anxiety can be mitigated.

Green spaces are different in their types, physical locations and suitability/accessibility for outdoor recreation. Characteristics as wildlife habitat diversity, mix of vegetation types, age and health of trees, landscape beauty are preferred in the decision to use these lands for outdoor recreation (Ghimire et al., 2017). In the larger settlements, the outdoor recreation activities are provided in urban green spaces (Tzoulas & James, 2010; Cord, Roeßiger, & Schwarz, 2012; McCracken et al., 2016; Monz, D'Antonio, Lawson, Barber, & Newmane, 2016). Such formal urban green spaces like city parks, gardens and so on cannot be sufficient to meet the citizen needs for contact to nature, especially in the densely inhabited regions (Rupprecht, Byrne, Ueda, & Lod, 2015).

In the last years, the protected sites, the natural parks and the national parks gain importance as destinations for recreational activities (Kim, Lee, & Klenosky, 2003; Monz et al., 2016; Karanikola, Panagopoulos, & Tampakis, 2017). For citizens visits to suburban parks provide an opportunity to live in a closer contact with nature (Cord et al., 2012). In social aspect, the proximity of green space which is suitable for recreation is especially significant for individuals living predominantly in near cities and for people with low incomes (Mitchell & Popham, 2008; van den Berg, Maas, Verheij, & Groenewegen, 2010; Boman, Fredman, Lundmark, & Ericsson, 2015; Plane & Klodawsky, 2013). Тhe protected sites and parks are attractive to visitors because of their protected status, which apparently ensures their naturalness and cleanness (Ferreira & Harmse, 2014; Karanikola et al., 2017).

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