Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Americans in the Outdoors

A recent Outdoor Industry Association participation study indicated that of Americans who spend time in the outdoors, they spend the most time on the following activities:
  1. Bicycling
  2. Fishing
  3. Hiking
  4. Camping
  5. Trail Running
A second OIA study identified youth (aged 6-17) who participate in outdoor activities as focused on the following:
  1. Bicycling
  2. Running
  3. Skateboarding
  4. Fishing
  5. Viewing Wildlife
Among Americans participating in outdoor activities, 37 percent of youth participate in an outdoor activity at least twice a week. According to the study, this is more than any other age group.

The OIA study included over sixty-thousand participants. Of those, 6.1 percent(4,799 people) were climbers.

The largest flaw in the OIA study is that those who participated in in likely found the survey through some kind of outdoor oriented forum or blog. As such it may not reflect Americans overall. The following two studies are a little bit more grim.

A study last year by Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, indicated that 71 percent of mothers across the country reported that they played outdoors more than indoors as children. In that same study, mothers indicated that only 26 percent of their children play outdoors more than in.

A study by the Journal of Environmental Management found that electronic entertainment appeared to be responsible for a downward trend in National Park attendance. In 1987, when National Park attendance was at an all time high, Americans spent almost no time playing video games and surfing the internet. By 2003, the average American spent 174 hours a year on the internet and 90 hours a year playing video games. There appears to be a significant correlation between annual per capita National Park attendance and the use of electronic devices.

What does all of this mean?
  • The OIA study provides a look at what those who are already outdoors are most interested in. Studies like this could ultimately lead those who allocate money to spend the bulk of what they have on those activities which have the most participation.
  • The Hofstra study and the Journal of Environmental Management Study combine to create a much grimmer picture. Less people in the wilderness ultimately means less interested in wilderness preservation.
The excellent book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv takes a close look at these issues. Indeed, he even lays out strategies to change the indoor trend that appears to be sweeping across the country.

There is a great deal of value in promoting participation in outdoor recreation. Of course, those who are reading this blog comprise the choir to which I am preaching, but sometimes the choir is in contact with those who haven't already been converted. The more knowledge that we all have about these trends, the more we all can promote outdoor recreation. And the more we can promote outdoor recreation, the more resources we will have to continue to enjoy the wilderness that we all love.

--Jason D. Martin

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