Connecting Americans to the Great Outdoors
America’s scenic and natural resources have always been a source of national pride but the evidence is mixed, if not downright missing, about how often we go outdoors, where we go, and who among us goes. Some argue that the popularity of outdoor recreation is steadily declining, due to our emerging “nature deficit disorder,” as evidenced by the growing health problems and rising obesity rates in children who play outdoors less and less.
There’s no lack of concern at the highest level. President Obama has established a formal initiative to address how the federal government can respond, with a cabinet-level report due at the end of this year. In a new Resources feature, RFF Fellows Margaret Walls and Juha Siikamäki, outline two emerging trends that are especially relevant: a marked change in federal spending toward conservation of farm land, wetlands, and wildlife habit, as opposed to recreation; and the growing shift toward private land conservation, marked by the enormous growth in land trusts.
Building on their extensive research on outdoor recreation resources in America, the authors also detail what we do and don’t know about who goes to the great outdoors, using visitation statistics for public lands and annual time-use survey data. Americans nowadays spend far more time in outdoor pursuits than in the 1960s but the numbers show a decline since the mid-1980s. Gender, education, age, and family status are key determinants of time spent in recreation, as is the amount of available leisure. This last finding could help explain some of the recent decline in the popularity of outdoor recreation.