Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Geography (MS)

Degree Level





Thomas R. Paradise

Committee Member

Fiona M. Davidson

Second Committee Member

Jason A. Tullis


Arkansas, Buffalo National River, hazards, public educational efforts, risk, risk perception, search and rescue


In 1972, the Buffalo River in Arkansas became America’s First National River. Since then, the Buffalo National River has become a beloved recreational retreat for locals and visitors alike. The Buffalo National River is home to incredibly scenic views and host to many outdoor activities, among them, hiking and floating. As with any confluence of nature and humans, there is great risk involved in all aspects of the park. Between 2011 and 2017, a total of 140 search and rescue missions were carried out. Some were resolved easily, but more serious accidents were not unheard of.

Risk perception studies are a vital resource used by authority figures such as the National Park Service (NPS) to strategize public education efforts and begin to mitigate risk. This study of risk perception strove to shed light on how visitors perceive risk in the context of the Buffalo National River. A one-page survey was administered to 80 park visitors, the results of which were compared to NPS records on actual search and rescue events that took place in the park from 2011 to 2017. It was found that though survey participants as a whole largely marked areas of risk correctly, certain demographic groups were less aware of potential risk. Suggestions for targeted educational efforts and potential risk mitigation strategies were made using the results of this study.