Visitors to public lands seek different experiences than in the past

  • Twilight at the rental yurts at Kayak Point County Park in Snohomish County, Washington.

    Brad Mitchell
 

Page 2

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."

As politicians and advertisers are aware, the country is undergoing a significant demographic upheaval, and no one knows if the next wave of recreationalists will embrace public land. For one, baby boomers are aging into a less active demographic. "They're still very interested in hiking, but they want it to be easier distances," says Frayer. "They like to go on interpretive hikes and (most) importantly they like to be back by 6 o'clock for martinis."

And most people recreating on public land are still white males, a shrinking percentage of the total population. That's why some land managers are working to encourage more kinds of visitors, installing yurts for busy urbanites and making camping and picnic sites larger to attract Latino families on multi-generational outings.

Today, there's a whole ecosystem of options for outdoor recreation, some more intensely connected with nature than others, offering ever more entry points into the outdoors. If a greater variety of people in coming generations do start venturing onto public land,  they're likely to have a good time. Last year, the Forest Service's National Visitor Use Monitoring program found that only about 3 percent of national forest and grassland visitors reported dissatisfaction, while 94 percent were satisfied (77 percent were very satisfied).

The challenge in the future will be keeping those numbers high, as recreation tastes and the public itself evolve. "We need to be able to change with the times," says Frayer. "If we don't, people will be going other places, and we gauge our success by use. If there's nobody coming, then why the heck are we doing this?"

Sarah Jane Keller is a High Country News intern whose home base is Bozeman, Mont. There are few things that can keep her away from public land, and writing about science and sometimes yurts are at the top of that list.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • EVENTS AND ANNUAL FUND COORDINATOR
    The Events and Annual Fund Coordinator is responsible for managing and coordinating the Henry's Fork Foundation's fundraising events for growing the membership base, renewing and...
  • EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Position Description: The Education Director is the primary leader of Colorado Canyons Association's (CCA) education programs for students and adults on the land and rivers...
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...