Only 48% Participate in Outdoor Activities

take kids fishing

Do Yourself a Favor… Take a kid fishing.

I just read the 2015 Outdoor Recreation Participation Topline Report, which led me to the complete 2013 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report (Download PDF).

I am always curious about how the numbers of people that enjoy the outdoors stack up against those that don’t. The 2015 report said 141.4 million participants (48.4% of U.S. age 6 and above) participated in at least one outdoor activity in 2014 for a total of 11.8 billion outdoor outings.

But before I found the numbers of people that camp, hike, hunt and fish, the most surprising statistic was that 51.6% of the people in this country (150.7 million age 6 and above) didn’t participate in any outdoor activity at all. To be considered an outdoor participant, people only had to participate in one outdoor activity during an entire year.

That so boggles my mind… More than half the people in this country did not participate in a single outdoor activity for an entire year.

How is that even possible for healthy people to go an entire year without a single outdoor activity?

Especially when most of the participants in the survey walked, ran or biked on pavement and activities like RV camping and camping in your own backyard were considered to be outdoor activities.

I knew we had turned into a country of “city folk”, but I didn’t think it was that bad.

Is it Good Less People go outside?

In some ways, the more people that stay inside is a good thing for those of us that live outside because less people compete for outside space and limited resources. One less person fishing the stream or one less hunter in the field has to be a good thing. Right?

Following that logic, you have to love mud, bad weather, mosquitoes and biting flies. Just think about how many people they keep inside.

In addition to less hunters and fishers, areas that are heavily used for other outdoor activities like riding mountain bikes and hiking (especially with dogs) are not the best places for all types of wildlife or for hunting. Lakes and reservoirs with heavy recreational boat traffic still have fish, but may not be fun places to fish. And there is nothing like going camping for the peace and quiet only to listen to generators, drunks and music half the night.

We Conserve only What We Love

Baba Dioum (a Senegalese forester) summed up the problem in his famous quote: “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.

So it can’t be a good thing that half the people never do anything outdoors, because people that don’t participate in outdoor activities generally don’t love the outdoors. If they don’t care about the outdoors, they probably don’t care about the same things those of us that hunt and fish care about like habitat conservation, invasive species or water pollution.

They will not care if your favorite hunting areas or trout streams are threatened by development, pollution or access. They will only care about jobs that are created and keeping energy prices as low as possible, never mind the consequences to our wildlife and water. (As example, the same people are being targeted by the American Petroleum Institute as “energy voters”).

The fact that half the people never do anything outdoors could lead us to think most people could care less if we get to hunt or fish at all. For now, there is still hope because current surveys tell a different story. But it all depends on how the questions are asked (more about that later).

The main reason hunting still has support from non-hunters is the simple fact that many people have friends and relatives that do hunt and/or fish. Hunting and fishing may not be important to them, but they understand it is important to their friends or relatives. If Grandpa hunts and hunts, then it can’t be all bad.

These people may still be allies for our cause, but the farther away their direct connections to hunting and fishing are, the less likely they are to support these activities in the future. If we are counting on a significant portion of the next generation to support hunting or fishing, someone better start taking the kids outside to fish, hike, camp and hunt.

Key Points of the 2015 Outdoor Participation Topline Report

  • Nearly half of all Americans (48.4%) participated in at least one outdoor activity in 2014
  • 141.4 million people (age 6+) went on 11.8 billion outdoor outings
  • Outdoor participation dropped 0.8% since 2013 (lowest levels since the report began in 2006)
  • Running and biking lost participants in 2014, but the indoor versions (running on treadmill and riding stationary bike) added participants
  • Paddle sports are on the increase and stand up paddling increased participation by 38%
  • Snow sports (snowshoeing, telemark, freestyle and cross-country skiing also increased significantly

Based on the Outdoor Participation Survey, I am obviously in the minority, but I don’t think about running or riding on pavement as outdoor activities. Yes, these people are outdoors and they are recreating, so I need to re-define my definition. What I have in mind are activities more focused on nature, not just as an outdoor place for physical activity. Last time I checked, neither asphalt nor concrete pavement enhance wildlife habitat or improve the water quality in streams.

If running on pavement is an outdoor activity, then a football game can also be considered as an outdoor activity for the players, the refs and all 50,000 fans if they jump up and down enough. But to make matters worse, even outdoor running and biking are loosing participants as people switch to running on treadmills and riding stationary bikes indoors.

So, what percentage of people actually fish and hunt or participate in other “off-pavement” outdoor activities? There were only 10 outdoor activities identified in the 2013 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report that I consider to be “nature focused” activities (Table 1). In reality, there are only five general activities because the study identified five different types of fishing and birdwatching is a just a subset of wildlife viewing. The five general activities were fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, hunting and backpacking.

Table 1. Participation in Nature Focused Outdoor Activities

Outdoor Activity All Ages
(million)
Percent
Fishing (Fly, Freshwater, Other, Saltwater)    47.1  16.4%
Fishing (Freshwater or Other)    39.1  13.6%
Hiking    34.6  12.0%
Wildlife Viewing*    23.0   8.0%
Hunting (All)    14.7   5.1%
Birdwatching*    14.3   5.0%
Fishing (Saltwater)    12.0   4.2%
Backpacking     8.8   3.1%
Fishing (Fly)     6.0   2.1%
Kayak Fishing     1.4   0.5%

* (More than ¼ mile from home or vehicle)

The most common “nature focused” outdoor activity in 2012 was Fishing (all types combined), with just over 47 million participants (16.4% of Americans age 6 and above). When Fly and Saltwater fishing were removed, 13.6% of people fished in fresh water or other fishing (kayak fishing). 13.6 of the population fished in saltwater and 2.1% fly fish. Only 1.4 million people fish from a kayak, but I get the feeling that this survey was more interested in the fact that these people kayaked and not that they used the kayak as a tool for fishing.

The next non-fishing activity was Hiking, with 34.6 million people (12.0%). Hiking was followed by Wildlife Viewing with 23 million participants (8%). Note that to be considered as outdoor activities, wildlife viewing and birdwatching (5%) had to be at least ¼ mile from home or a vehicle. So watching deer, chipmunks or birds in our backyards don’t count, even if I can see elk from my window over ¼ mile away.

There were 14.7 million people that hunted (all types) in 2012 (5.1%). This survey did a poor job of separating the different types  of hunting (more on that later).

Nearly 9 million people backpacked (3.1%). Backpacking was the only form of camping I considered to be primarily nature focused.

Compared with 18.5% of people that run or jog outside (all types of running) and 14.7% of people that ride bikes outside (all types of biking), the percentage of people that fish is respectable (16.4%). But with only 5.1% of people the hunt, that ranks below RV camping at 5.3%.

Now remember, many of these people in the survey only hunted, fished, biked, or RV camped one time during the year (more about that later too).

As Franc White, from the old Southern Sportsman TV show used to say” “Do yourself a favor, take a kid fishing.” If you don’t, who’s going to take you when you get too old to go by yourself.

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