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"The meanings embodied in the 1964 Wilderness Act and reflected in the common practices of federal land management agencies have an important influence on wilderness use, yet they neither determine nor sufficiently describe the nature of visitor's experiences. The objectives of this study were to understand the meanings expressed by wilderness visitors, and further to investigate how visitors negotiate the range of culturally available meanings to reconstruct their experiences and evaluate wilderness management practices. Data collection and analysis for this study was guided by the tenets of hermeneutic philosophy and informed by Giddens' Theory of Structuration and related concepts. Thirty-two open-ended, group and individual interviews were conducted with a total of 92 visitors at Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska. Interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed, and rigorously analyzed using a multi-stage process of data organization and interpretation. Through this process, five dimensions of visitors' experiences were identified: A taste of the arctic, self-reliance, wildness, naturalness, and stewardship. These dimensions reflect some of the major themes from the Wilderness Act and the Gates of the Arctic general management plan. However, within and across the dimensions, visitors expressed variable and sometimes contradictory meanings. They described wilderness as a place primarily absent of people, but also as a setting for defining themselves, interacting with others, and connecting with a common human ancestry. Likewise, some visitors described regulations as symbols of government intrusion or as constraints on their personal freedoms, but they also described them as means to enhance safety and preserve experience opportunities, and as symbols of good stewardship. These findings indicate that general or abstract meanings relative to people and regulations in wilderness do not necessarily reflect how visitors interpret encounters and management practices in the specific context of their lived experiences. In general, visitors do not appear to hold stable meanings for wilderness that uniformly influence their experiences or their interpretations of wilderness management regulations. The results of this study have important implications for wilderness management and also for future research efforts"--Leaf ii.