Visitors to public lands seek different experiences than in the past

Here’s a link to an article by High Country News intern..Sarah Jane Keller.good article!

A couple of interesting perspectives

This desire to drive to the Oregon woods or coast to sleep on comfy beds in Mongolian-style tents is just one of the changing trends tracked by Chuck Frayer, recreation planner for Oregon and Washington’s national forests. “We’re starting to see a shift in use,” the 40-year veteran says. “It’s not like it was when I was a kid.”

After decades of growth, the number of people engaged in recreation outdoors and on public land began to level off or decline in the 1980s and 1990s (see graph below). People appear to have less time, money or desire to venture to the more remote and undeveloped public lands, so they increasingly seek out more convenient outdoor recreation.

A 2008 study funded by The Nature Conservancy with an ominous title — Evidence for a fundamental and pervasive shift away from nature-based recreation –– noted a recent decline in various activities, including national park visits, hunting and fishing license sales and camping. Similar studies, along with books like Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, create the impression that Americans are hanging up their fishing rods and backpacks because they’d rather be glued to LCD screens than outside emulating Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and Edward Abbey. Everything from the Internet and organized sports to the sagging economy and urbanization has been cited to explain the shifts in how often people visit public land, and what they do once they’re out there.


The U.S. Forest Service doesn’t report such long-term trends because the agency has repeatedly changed its methods for counting visitors. But Robert Burns, an outdooor recreation researcher at West Virginia University who’s working with the agency’s new science-based monitoring system in Oregon and Washington, observes, “What we see in the West is that there are a lot of people traveling shorter distances and traveling for shorter periods of time. I see a decrease in national forest visitation to what we think of as traditional wilderness and deep-dark-forest kinds of settings.”
Ken Cordell, a leading recreation researcher in the Forest Service’s Southern Research Station in Georgia, also sees that the tastes of Americans are shifting, even as people continue to enjoy the outdoors. Based on telephone surveys, Cordell reports that from 2001 to 2009 “nature appreciation” activities — like watching or photographing birds and other wildlife — grew more rapidly than backcountry hiking, hunting and fishing. We’re still pursuing wildlife, but now we’re more likely to use digital cameras and binoculars. And recreation fads like kayaking and orienteering have some of the highest growth rates. Cordell and his research team also found that “walking for pleasure” and “family gatherings outdoors” are today’s most popular activities, enjoyed by about 85 percent and 74 percent of Americans, respectively.
Interpreting statistics is a complicated task, and the recent numbers indicate many different story lines. Late last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service reported that from 2006 to 2011, the number of hunters actually increased 9 percent — the first increase since 1975. However, well over half of hunters used private land exclusively — a worrisome trend for those concerned about public support for the concept of public lands.

Those rebounds don’t surprise Cordell, who believes recreation generally follows the economy’s ups and downs. Looking ahead, over the next 50 years, his studies predict an overall increase in outdoor recreation, with some activities growing more than others. Per capita participation in “visiting primitive areas,” hunting and fishing, off-road driving and snowmobiling will all decline, he predicts, while downhill skiing, snowboarding and climbing will have faster growth rates. “What people choose to do is going to continue to change,” says Cordell. “I think that’s a major point, because a
lot of our management folks have been pretty much focused on some of the traditional activities.”

What do our readers see in their neck of the woods? As I’ve written previously, I see a great deal of RV and dispersed camping and hiking, lots of ski area use, and lots of local use of open spaces.

We also seem to have many countervailing thoughts and views about recreation. One view is that recreation use is so important economically that it is primary (a la Headwaters study and OIA). The other is a worry about enough people recreating in the future to keep bucks going to our public lands. The next is that more people have more environmental impacts that need to be managed, when people are already concerned about impacts of people on wilderness areas and OHV use.

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