Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The End of Outdoor Recreation

This new study published in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences shouldn't be a surprise to anyone in the outdoor business. The trend for nearly two decades has been towards increasingly shorter and fewer trips. This study shows that while US population is going up, the percentage of people visiting parks has been going down around 1% per year. Since 1987, per capita participation in nature recreation has declined 18% to 25% (total population grew from 243 to 301 million during that time). The authors suggest that Americans may be giving up the outdoors for electronic gratification, though other factors are likely to blame as well.

The Outdoor Industry Association has long been fighting a losing battle to increase participation among youth (not to mention blacks and Hispanics). The OIA's Next Generation Report clearly shows a decline in outdoor activity as people grow older. Their 2006 Participation Study only goes back to 1998 so it doesn't look quite as bleak as the "fundamental shift away from nature-based recreation" but it still shows notable declines since 2001.
What this means for the rest of us who will never stop playing outdoors is less funding for parks, more user fees, and fewer people supporting environmental causes. Those who have the time to take longer trips into the real backcountry will likely encounter fewer people. But day-trippers are going to experience even more crowding, particularly with California leading the way by closing 48 state parks.

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