Time spent on recreation outdoors by Americans has more than doubled since the 1960s, according to a new study by RFF Fellow Juha Siikamäki, who finds nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population is currently active in outdoor pursuits on any given day. The findings are included in a discussion paper entitled "Use of Time for Outdoor Recreation in the United States, 1965–2007."
The big jump from the 1960s was largely driven by an overall increase in outdoor recreation, according to Siikamäki. Today Americans spend, on average, around two hours per person per week in outdoor recreation and physically active sports, a drop since the 1990s, when the number was slightly higher—2.68 hours per week—and people had more leisure time. This declining trend has not continued in recent years, he notes.
In general, people using the outdoors for recreation tend to be male, younger, and have more years of education than the overall population, Siikamäki notes. Improving access to outdoor sites, such as public parks closer to urban and suburban areas, as well as crafting policies to address demographic groups relatively passive in outdoor recreation, could encourage outdoor recreation among the broader population. Even among the most active groups, recreation is changing as new popular options such as mountain biking, bird watching, rock climbing, and motorized recreation, including snowmobiling and driving off-road vehicles, supplement traditional activities such as hiking, fishing, hunting, and camping. Siikamäki also notes that more needs to be known about the adolescent population, which according to popular claims is growing apart from contact with nature and nature-based activities.
"Much of the policy and physical infrastructure for outdoor recreation was developed decades ago," he says, "and it is vital to evaluate whether this infrastructure still meets the demands of today and the future. Today’s society also presents new emerging policy problems, such as obesity and other public health issues associated with the physical fitness of individuals."