Commitment of local communities to protected areas is essential for conserving forest and biodiversity. However, in many developing countries like Turkey, former management strategies kept human from protected areas using coercion. Fortunately, more recent regimes attempt to give local populations more control on the management but little is known about local residents' perceptions, beliefs and attitudes toward the management of these areas. This study, carried out around the Karagöl Sahara National Park, determined factors which support local communities' positive perceptions towards forest conservation in the park, analysed their assessment of current park management activities compared to former management approaches and draw the implications for effective participatory management of protected areas. We collected socio-demographic data from 100 residents on their awareness of conservation methods. The findings indicated that the positive behavior of local communities towards conservation of forest within Karagöl Sahara National Park was highly correlated with the current management strategy that involved more effectively local communities, the educational level of participants. Participants' perceptions of forest conservation were strongly related to locally perceived benefits. Although 91 % of participants were favorable to the concept of forest and biodiversity conservation within the park. Our results suggested that understanding local residents' perceptions and using them as a starting point to improve the park–people relationship could help park management staff to involve more effectively local communities and improve their awareness about biodiversity conservation within the park.