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Time to get serious about fun!

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Ben Long | Sep 15, 2011 09:00 AM

 Now for some serious talk about fun. The world needs more fun.

Lighten up. Grab a kid and a sack lunch and get outside. The backyard or the Brooks Range. It’s your duty, if you care about Mother Earth.

Yes, write your Congressman. Yes, make that donation. Shop for organic, fairly traded, locally grown soy-burger produced by feminist communes of Tibetan exiles.

Aidan Long's first trout

But go have fun. Play hooky from the doom and gloom. The future depends on it.

 I’ve been thumbing through the statistics compiled by the Outdoor Foundation about how Americans enjoy the outdoors. For the Outdoor Industry Association, this is market research. But it’s even more important in the big picture. People who enjoy the outdoors, across the board, are the people who support conservation with their dollars and their votes. They are the ones who see the wounds on the Earth with their own eyes and are compelled to act to make the world better. Couch potatoes make lousy activists.

First the good news: Americans still love the Great Outdoors.  Half of all Americans, 150 million of us – take part in some kind of outdoor activity each year.

But the picture looks more troubling when you remember the future belongs to the young.

The older people get, the less time they tend to spend outdoors. Outdoor activities tend to peak between the ages of 11 and 16. That's also roughly the age when lifelong "outdoor participants" are introduced to outdoor activities.

Kids are spending less time outdoors. In 2006, 78 percent of kids age 6-12 took part in an outdoor activity that year. In 2009, the number was only 62 percent.

The study has also identified “gateway sports” that tend to introduce kids  to the outdoors. These include simple, low-budget activities like fishing, bicycle riding, camping, hiking. Good news is interest in these sports appears to be on the increase.

The survey asked kids who is most likely to get them involved in the outdoors? Parents. Siblings. Peers. Groups like the Boy Scouts.

Asked why they want to enjoy the outdoors and kids said: For fun. Simple as that.

For years, my wife and I volunteered in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. We dragged our “little,” Christina, into the woods one weekend a month. Like or not, she paddled canoes, picked berries, shot a .22. She often argued she preferred to shop or watch a movie, but we out-voted her.

Today, Christina is all grown up and moved away. She has a career helping manage public land for the Bureau of Land Management. Her Facebook posts are full of reports from her latest hiking and camping trips.

I tell you – that’s the most fun of all.

So tell me – what’s the best way to have fun with kids outdoors?

Ben Long is an outdoorsman, conservationist and father in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director for Resource Media.

Image: Catch-and-release is optional when fishing with kids. (c) Ben Long

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