The Changing Face of Outdoor Recreation.

5:25 p.m. on May 14, 2013 (EDT)
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 'Softer, closer, easier.'

Are we becoming even more of a minority?

Of course, the opposite makes for far better adventures.

10:06 p.m. on May 14, 2013 (EDT)
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Better than nothing, I guess? And who knows, for some it might be the start of bigger things.

I'm just glad whenever people spend at least some time in something approaching a natural setting. Even if it's cushioned and packaged and really more of a 'reasonable facsimile' it's still better than nothing. Because we need people who will speak up when the bulldozers move in. Perhaps they saw that great blue heron from a padded Adirondack chair while drinks were being served, it still just might be enough to make them care when the new strip mine is proposed.

Also, honestly? I feel a bit sorry for people who decide they want to get into 'outdoor recreation' from a cold start. These days it seems to be a High Performance Sport, with specialized equipment and technical lingo. Anybody reading some of the blogs and forums might think that taking a walk in the woods and then sleeping in them is an endeavour that requires much research and many dollars. Boy am I glad I grew up doing this, and already had the skills and knew the difference between necessity and comfort, because when I first discovered (about five years ago) the current face of Outdoor Recreation and its multi-million-dollar market, I was floored. I'm very happy with the advances, mind you, and I love my lightweight high-tech gear, but wow, I shook my head a few times when I saw what was involved in choosing, say, a tarp these days. Daunting. So if there's an 'easy' option, maybe that's all to the good, in the long run?

8:43 a.m. on May 15, 2013 (EDT)
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I couldn't agree more, Islandess. Not my idea of 'getting out there' but certainly a step in the right direction. Even the tourists who never stray more than a couple of kilometres from the highway are still there because they love nature in all her glory. 

And I think there are a lot of people, especially coming back to it later in life, who start with the 'easy' options and move from there into more challenging ones. At that stage, they have more money to invest in equipment (as evidenced here), the energy to sort through all the latest gadgets and the latest hi-tech gear, and often more time to get out and do some stuff. 

Like kids who start hiking up mountains because their parents had the foresight to take them car-camping, anything that gets people out into the natural world is good both for them and for the wilderness spaces we love.

8:59 a.m. on May 15, 2013 (EDT)
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I see several factor at work, influencing the declining popularity of camping and other park land activities.

  1. Decline in scouting.
    Being a boy scout is no longer a cool thing to do.  Ever since the 1980s, scouting has been on the decline.  The neighborhood I live in used to support several scout troops per square mile; now there are only three for the entire community of 100K.  Additionally the trend in scouting has been toward less extended traveling to the outdoors, and doing more urban based activities.  Scouting once was a significant mode of introducing young boys to the outdoors, who later became men who hiked and camped, and eventually took their sons camping or mentored a scout troop.  That cycle has been disrupted.  My troop used to stage a hike almost every month of the year, mixed in with one or two car camping trips.  The local troops get out maybe four times a year, and usually car camp.  The decline in membership and changes in scouting activities alone can explain the decline in outdoor activities.
  2. Single parent house holds.
    Another change in our society over the same period is the dramatic increase in single parent homes.  It is probably no coincidence that soccer has become more popular at the same time as camping has declined as youth activities.  Scouting for the older boys was mostly something dads did with the boys.  The fracturing of the family unit has affected this tradition, not for the better.  In the mean time mom’s in their concern to keep their son’s active have encouraged them to participate in soccer and other activities they are more comfortable supporting as parents.  You can argue this is a sexist opinion, but visit any car camp ground or back country destination and you will note the vast majority of groups are men, or have male adults as the party responsible for the group – groups headed by adult females are vastly underrepresented.  Face it camping is an activity only a few women enjoy; many endure it to indulge their men, and most refuse to camp altogether.
  3. The Ecology movement.
    Those who were around to experience the golden age of camping will recall the back to earth ecology movement centered on the 1970s enticed many to take up outdoor activities in natural settings.  You can practically see the impact of this movement on the attendance graph accompanying this article; the group of individuals comprising that generation entered middle age at about where park attendance peaked in the 1990s.  As they grew older they became less inclined to hike and camp, and attended parks on a less frequent basis as a consequence.
  4. Additional diversions.
    We have more options to choose from than we used to, regarding recreational activities.  Consider the modern proliferation of Six Flags and other destiny themed amusement parks.  There were not jet skis, dirt bikes, ATCs or ATVs a few decades ago; few owned a 4wd recreational vehicle, or motor home.  Fewer still took ocean cruises or traveled abroad.  And these are just a few of the options many partake in nowadays that were rare or non-existent thirty or so years ago.  


9:34 a.m. on May 15, 2013 (EDT)
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The Boomers have aged and may want something easier.  Kids are mostly inexperienced.  Too many people get their perceptions of the outdoors messed up by watching things like Animal Planet and the Disney Channel.

It is surprising that more people don't die on day hikes.

I was paddling a canoe a few years ago on a big, pristine lake on a perfect and warm fall day in the mountains.  Another boat came by, "Look kids its just like Disneyland." the father announced.  I was shaken up by this experience and cannot forget it.



11:23 a.m. on May 15, 2013 (EDT)
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Ed, I agree with your points. Especially about scouting and single parenting.

In the past twenty or so years the scouts I have met in the back country have been some of the worst neighbors to camp near that I can recall.  It seems like their leaders still teach from a 1940s camping book; the sounds of hatchets echo through the high alpine meadows as their 15+ members per group camp in the heather, build fires EVERYWHERE and fill every pond and puddle with PowerBait and lost tackle. 

I know fans of scouting will rage on me for saying this but these are just a few reasons why my kids have not nor will they ever be involved in scouting.  I can teach them myself.  I feel bad for the kids without dads though, many dads have really failed their children.  I imagine that once upon a time scouting was at the cutting edge of outdoor recreation but something happened since WWII that has made most scouting troops into something less than spectacular.   

11:57 a.m. on May 15, 2013 (EDT)
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ppine said:

... Another boat came by, "Look kids its just like Disneyland." the father announced.  I was shaken up by this experience and cannot forget it.

Disneyland? That's terrible! I share your sense of horror. We can only hope that the experience stayed with the kids enough that they were able to look on it differently later on. 

2:59 a.m. on May 16, 2013 (EDT)
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ppine said:

.."Look kids its just like Disneyland." the father announced... 

I am not sure which is more disconcerting: that family you mentioned that thinks nature is just like Disneyland, or the one I sat next to years ago on the jungle ride that marveled how it was just like their safari trip.


7:17 a.m. on May 16, 2013 (EDT)
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The primary qualification for leading any youth group seems to be a willingness to take on the job. That goes for Scouts and Guides, church groups, urban youth programs, and every other bunch of people who think that being outdoors is a good thing to do. I've had a few inquiries over the years from social workers, asking if I'd be able to take a bunch of delinquent kids on urban walks. 

In most cases, though, it's often a case of the blind leading the blind. 

Scouts are better than some of the others, in that there are manuals available (however outdated they may be), but the leaders are largely inexperienced volunteers. I've tangled with church organizers who let their kids feed the ground squirrels and other animals, short-cut up switchbacks, and generally run wild, and once with a scout leader who figured it was okay for people in his group to carve their initials on the trees in a national park. 

That being said, at least there is someone willing to take young people out into the wilderness if their parents aren't so-inclined. I'm always surprised by how many adults I meet on the trails who started with that kind of exposure, so apparently it pays off. 

11:36 a.m. on May 16, 2013 (EDT)
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I agree with the opinions about the new Scouts.  What it is really disappointing is that I have volunteered to teach merit badges and lots of other things over the years with no takers.  I get the impression that many inexperienced Scout leaders are intimidated by people that might have more experience than they do.

11:58 a.m. on May 16, 2013 (EDT)
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Interesting mention about scouts. I have elected to vacate campsites on numerous occasions when overrun with large scout groups. Of course “kids will be kids” and rightly so, but some groups have been collectively obnoxious. But others have been a joy to meet and interact with.

Having discovered my love of backcountry roaming a little later in life, I sometimes wonder if I would have made my discovery sooner had I been involved in scouts as a youth (and possibly made some better decisions than I did as young teenager).

12:09 p.m. on May 16, 2013 (EDT)
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Scouting is a different world than it was years ago in some ways but the intent to help the boys grow into good men is still the same.  


I am also a volunteer merit badge counselor.  I get out with one specific troop on occasion and help them with merit badges.   I have never had any other troops contact me for help even though I am in the BSA database.  I stay in touch with the troop leaders and the boys for the one specific troop to keep the lines of communication open.  I would suggest targeting a specific troop and helping them out.  Most good scout leaders appreciate all the help they can get and these boys really do need guidance and direction from experienced people.  

2:41 p.m. on May 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Over the years I spent in the BSA, it seemed like it was changing from an organization built on teaching boys to be self-reliant and decent human beings with an appreciation for the outdoors. I was fortunate to be in a troop with a leader who didn't care much for how things were changing. While other troops spent just as much time outdoors as we did early on, by the time I was in my late teens, we were the only troop left in my area that even attempted backpacking, whitewater rafting, rappelling, or anything else people might consider dangerous for kids. I don't know if it's how society's developed a propensity for lawsuits, or if parents really are against their kids doing these activities.

As far as how outdoor recreation is changing, I live less than ten miles from a national park, and the surrounding towns have exploded with places that blend outdoor experiences with tourist traps. People leave the hotel room, see a tiny bit of nature by zipline, inflatable kayak, or horseback, and return to sleep in air conditioning. I'm torn on it since some folks might want to do more on their own initiative later, even though most think that's what being in nature is all about.

Of course, there are also folks who think driving an RV to a KOA while having to rely on satellite and a smaller fridge is roughing it. The retirees who enjoy traveling this way I have no problem with, but working at a campground in my younger days introduced me to plenty of younger suburban folks who thought it was the height of reconnecting with nature. In fact, my job there was basically to keep nature at bay.

I don't mean to sound like people who actually go camping away from the car are superior in some way, but I do believe  that society is losing perspective on what it means to be outdoors. Some people go camping to get away from the trappings of modern society, and others drag as much of it with them as they can.

7:08 p.m. on May 17, 2013 (EDT)
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I think much of the decline is due to two primary factors. Richard Louv coined the term "Nature Deficit Disorder" as it applied to children who have grown up with no exposure to nature. His latest book applies this to adults. Even though I grew up in a suburban environment, there were fallow fields of an old farm near my house. I played in those, in the creek, caught frogs. Today's youth , even in similar environments, don't have that experience. Similarly, adults don't either. There are too many other distractions. As well, there is less time being spent in nature, even for those who do take the time. The quick fix is what is often wanted. 70 years ago, the average length of a canoe trip was nearly a month. Now it is four days. People are just not spending extended periods of time in nature. It is unfortunate, because new studies(mentioned by Louv, among others in the new field of eco psycology) have proven that time spent in nature, away from the distractions of the modern world, actually increases our ability to concentrate.

Canadian Kevin Callan had an experience several years ago that he boiled down to a simple phrase. His father was quite ill and the stress it created for Kevin caused a skin rash. But Kevin had a trip that he had to take for a month, as a guide and canoeing author. Three days into the trip, his rash went away. When he returned, his father was no better and the rash returned. He says, "Canoeing takes the rash away".

We all need nature in our lives in order to be mentally healthier, even for a few hours each week. If more people experience nature in any form, even a walk in the park, it is not just healthy for them, but for the natural world so that they will care about it more. I would hope that more people would experience nature for longer more intense experiences. But for now, a yurt is really not much different than a similar lodge experience in the Adirondacks was in the late 19th century. What we need is another Teddy Roosevelt, another John Muir, another Aldo Leopold to galvanize people's interest in the outdoors.

8:18 a.m. on May 18, 2013 (EDT)
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Good points, Howling Hippie and Erich. I've seen the same studies about the health benefits of being outside, and there is no doubt that many people who go camping drag along as many of the trappings of civilization as they can.

I guess my hope would be the someone who visits a lodge in the Adirondacks (or a campground or yurt in a national park) has a basic appreciation for nature and the outdoors. They are, after all, choosing to be there on vacation, rather than in Las Vegas or New York, so maybe there is still hope.

11:26 a.m. on May 18, 2013 (EDT)
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I agree witht the discussion so far.  As a child of the TV 50s I was Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Sgt Preston of the Yukon, and especially Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers as a kid.  We were also the guys in Combat and the Gallant Men.  All of our time was spent outdoors emulating our heroes.  We practiced being stunt men.  We panned the creeks for gold.  By the age of ten we were on long day hikes cooking over a fire.  By age 12 we were backpacking and camping for up to a week without adults around.  We had fanner 50s, fake chaps and cowboy hats. 

As an adult it lead me to sew buckskin clothes, and ride off with a string of mules and float giant rivers.  I tried to put together a dog sledding trip with no takers.  I had a career in forestry and environemental consulting. 

 Now most of my friends think like they are old and want to go out to eat and drink wine.  When I can't walk very well I will get an off-road wheel chair and continue to go out there.

Kids today by comparison are lost in space with no passion.  My close friends' two kids grew up watching crime shows.  They are both majoring in forensics.  I morn the loss of the Greatest Generation.  When they are gone people will morn the loss of the Baby Boomers.



11:14 a.m. on May 20, 2013 (EDT)
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Many good points made here, PPine descibed my childhood as well as his own and Hippy hit a sore spot with me ( not that I disagrree because I do agree)

One thing I think has made a big difference is security. My parents didn't worry about someone snatching or harming my brother or me in the ntl frst we live in back in the early 60's but we have 2 or three murders a year in it now so I would be hard pressed to give my grandboys the level of freedom at a young age that me and my brother enjoyed.

my personal situation is that I worked 16 to 18 hours a day 6 days, sometimes 7 days a week to provide for a family and just plain couldn't afford to travel to a place where you could roam as if you were the only person in a hundred mile radius and just as the kid was gone and some debt was going away along came grandkids which means back to really short hikes that little legs can stand. my dream was to do the entire AT in one trip but as my body ages and joints attack me in revenge for the torment I put them through trying to keep the wolves from the door I am slowly seeing that dim.

In my case the kids come first, no discussion or compromise, they are first. The oldest boy is 7 and in his first year of scouts and I am his adult partner. We are lucky in that the scout leaders in our pack all agree that hiking and camping are important to keeping a boy excited about scouting so we are very active in that respect but if not we would go it alone because I am determined that my boys experience it firstr hand as I did.

Some will disagree but I think it is a teaching thing, I monitor my boys ( I call them mine because they nearly live with me ) in all they do, this means what they watch on tv, the games they play, when they play them and how they treat others and on and on. It is my beleif that it is very hard to grow up to be a good man if someone doesn't care enough to teach you to be a good boy and likewise a good outdoorsman most times had his interest peaked as a boy. so while we will never spend a month exploring the wilderness of Idaho we do what we can and stay active either hiking/camping car/canoe camping or just srolling through the woods on a sunday afternoon. My daddy didn't camp, me and my brother got our inspiration from my mothers father, who in our eyes was the great white hunter. he left for deer camp every fall leaving us behind but we heard of his adventures and we knew we had to have some of that fun for ourselves..... and boy did we. And I still do to this day all because of a little inspiration my grandfather didnt even know he was giving me.

Teach your kids and tell the neighbors kids the storys, the ones that are inspired will live a richer life for it.



4:02 p.m. on May 20, 2013 (EDT)
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smithcreek said:

..One thing I think has made a big difference is security.. ..I would be hard pressed to give my grandboys the level of freedom at a young age that me and my brother enjoyed.

my personal situation is that I worked 16 to 18 hours a day 6 days..

..Some will disagree but I think it is a teaching thing, I monitor my boys ( I call them mine because they nearly live with me ) in all they do, this means what they watch on tv, the games they play, when they play them and how they treat others and on and on...


I do agree that our generation works longer hours to support a household.  In fact both parents usually now work whereas our parents’ generation often chose to have one parent to stay home, to take care of the house and be present when the kids came home from school.  Some families must have both parents employed to achieve even a modest lifestyle, but in many cases long hours at work and dual incomes is a choice, not a necessity.  We could get by with old used cars and more modest housing, but many wanna-gotta have that house on the hill, a gardener to keep the yard just so, a shiny BMW, beefy 4x4 truck or SUV, boat, vacation timeshare, deluxe home entertainment center/large screen TV, and all manner of computer and cellular technology.  Not to mention resort vacations and diamonds on Valentine’s Day.  In many cases it is not we lack the resources, it is we have reallocated our resources according to the shift in our priorities and values.

As for the amount of evil lurking in the forest, or anywhere for that matter: it has remained more or less constant for many decades.  What has changed is we are barraged by mass media that makes us more aware of our surroundings, but also skews our perceptions by presenting mostly the negative aspects of that space.  The keyword you noted in describing the generational difference between us and our parents is “security.”  Note security is a perception; not an objective state of reality.  If we were really that concerned about two or three murders, then we might as well seal up our families in plastic bubbles, as simply driving to the super market or frolicking on the playground or in the barn pose greater mortal risk from other humans and accidents, than tripping around in the backcountry.  Thus the difficulty our generation expresses in granting our children some independence has more to do with being programmed to see the world out there as menacing, than any changes in our environment over the years.  Unfortunately boomers and successive generations are plagued with helicopter parent mentality, and feel that Johnny is in grave peril if he should wander beyond eyeshot.  Trust your child and the wisdom you imparted in him; that indeed Johnny will be able to think for himself while he is out and about and away from you.   It is hard to grow up to be a good person without mentoring and guidance, but it is just as hard to become a responsible and competent adult when your development and decisions as a youth are micromanaged, leaving one little opportunity to learn from one’s own experiences and mistakes, and form their own world view.

So what if we can’t find the time or funds to take a month canoeing where we are the only ones around for one hundred miles.  But almost everyone can afford a weekend and the gas it takes to drive a few hours to a place where there is enough open space that the kids feel they are the only ones for miles around.  The point being this topic is as much about the perceptions our youth form on their own as the perceptions of the adults that attempt to influence youth.


7:32 p.m. on May 20, 2013 (EDT)
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I think it's a sad commentary when scouts are bad neighbors and johnny can't go camping because he might get hurt. I don't blame the kids, I blame the parents.

11:05 p.m. on May 20, 2013 (EDT)
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Ed you are probably right, I am probably over cautious but the guy tried in Tallahassee for murdering the woman and mutilating her trying to make it impossible for her to be identified was camped at camps right our backdoor and I passed by him twice a day every day for weeks and it still unnerves me to think that it could have been my wife or daughter who stopped and fell victim to his feining need for help. I know being over protective isnt the best thing I can do for my boys and girls but it could be worse...... I could be neglectful and let them make it through this world alone as best as they can as many parents seem to do now a days. As they grow there are places here in our back yard that I feel they would be perfectly safe in and when they are of age they and their older cousins will begin there rite of passage without old grandad spoiling the fun but not at 9 or 10 like me and my brother did more like 11 or 12. For better or worse this just aint the same world most of us grew up in and what with perception being reallity it is a damned site more dangerous in the Florida panhandle now than it was in 1965.

Back to the initial thing, I hope people do use all the close in parks and forests as much as possible because living in a ntl frst I see first hand the money being spent for the wants and needs of the majoritys interests so the more diverse the interests hopefully the more diverse the projects funded will be.

Thanks Ed, sincerely, you have turned on the light and I see I am going to have to find away to strike a balance before these boys come of age to expect to spread their wings as I did.



2:03 p.m. on May 21, 2013 (EDT)
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I think it's a sad commentary when scouts are bad neighbors and johnny can't go camping because he might get hurt. I don't blame the kids, I blame the parents.


The official policy of BSA includes Leave No Trace. LNT includes a "Respect others", which means keep the noise down and do not disturb others. This was actually added to the original LNT list at the suggestion of those of us from BSA.who were asked for comment when the LNT principles were being written. Unfortunately there are still way too many untrained adult leaders who do not teach even the most basic principles of being in the outdoors - respect for the environment, respect for your fellow scouts, respect for others, all those things everyone should learn when growing up.

"Untrained" is the key here. There has been a big effort for the past several decades to get the adult leaders, and as a result, the youth, trained. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of parents who believe that "BSA" means "Baby Sitters of America". Another contributor is that the adult leaders for troops chartered by some of the largest chartering organizations just appoint the adults (who may not have kids of their own) for a year or two (hence no incentive to get training in the outdoors). National BSA has been trying to change this, but what most people do not realize is that individual troops are owned by the local chartering organization, NOT BSA National (Girl Scouts in the USA differs in that troops are all owned by GSUSA). Many Councils have good training programs with experienced adult leaders, but too many do not. There are many top climbers, white water guides, and other outdoor types who learned through Scouting (and these days this includes women as well - BSA has had fully coed programs for 14-21 yo for over 20 years, though most people are unaware of this).

11:13 p.m. on May 21, 2013 (EDT)
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smithcreek said:

Thanks Ed, sincerely, you have turned on the light and I see I am going to have to find away to strike a balance before these boys come of age to expect to spread their wings as I did.

As long as you are not the primary care giver, your duty is to dote and spoil your grandsons!  If you do that just about everything else you do will work out just fine.  As you point out the most important thing is being involved in your boy's lives.


9:57 a.m. on May 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Ed I do spoil them more than I should probably but like you say thats part of my job....and its fun!!

I am in a position though that many grandparents find theirselves in and always have and will in that the father is not active in raising the children. He and my daughter are still living together and love each other and he isint a bad guy he just has no interest in raising kids and keeps himself absent as much as he can which is why I am the oldests scout partner, which is fine I enjoy seeing him grow but unfortunately that is why they want to stay at my house and that forces me to have to be a parent and grandparent because the discipline and guiding their father should be giving them falls to me. Again I don't mind I just wish they had the relationship with their father that they have with me, my daddy was always my hero even after I discovered he was a mere mortal like me, I want that for them.

Man, this has got way off topic!! I'll leave it lay but you are a logical thinker and I respect that about you and wanted you to know it.



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