Connecting People with Nature Through a Network of Large Natural Areas

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Plechaty, Dan
Norten, William


Swenson, Jennifer J.

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The South Atlantic region, extending from southern Virginia to northern Florida, is a diverse and growing area that includes large urban centers such as Atlanta, Jacksonville, Charlotte and Raleigh. With a large number of the region’s population already residing in these metropolitan areas, the percentage urban residents in South Atlantic’s population is expected to increase rapidly over the next few decades. The pressures from this expanding urbanization will result in the further loss of natural areas unless proactive land conservation actions are undertaken. As it stands, not all of these urban residents currently have access to a large natural area in which to recreate and enjoy nature, making timely conservation efforts in the region vital. It is against this background that the South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (SALCC) is working to “inform resource management decisions” and facilitate conservation planning among “federal agencies, regional organizations, states, tribes, NGOs, universities and other entities” in the region. The goal of this project is to work with the SALCC to perform a feasibility analysis for having a large natural area nearby every urban resident in the South Atlantic region. To accomplish this, we performed a literature review in order to determine how much people value large natural areas and how willing they are to travel to reach them. Then, we developed a novel, flexible and scalable geospatial toolset which calculates two measures of access: Euclidean distance and driving times. Finally, we employed an exploratory statistical analysis to see how access correlates with socio-economic, geographic and other variables. It is our hope that our work will both help the SALCC identify areas in need of future conservation efforts and inform them about what is valued in a large natural area and what groups’ needs in the region are currently not being met.






Plechaty, Dan, and William Norten (2015). Connecting People with Nature Through a Network of Large Natural Areas. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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