It’s your outdoors, Grand County: Use it or lose it
August 22, 2008
Americans are shunning the great outdoors as if a rabid skunk were lurking behind every bush.
That, in any event, is what a slew of reports released during the past decade conclude.
Could have fooled me. Every outdoors enthusiast this side of Denver must have been looking for a parking space on a recent Saturday morning at the Junco Lake trailhead into Indian Peaks Wilderness.
But then, we’re fortunate enough to live in one of those rare places where outdoors activities are an integral part of many residents’ lifestyles.
Nothing could be further from the truth nationwide, however, and even in Colorado the shift toward more urban pursuits is noticeable.
So precipitous is the decline that Congress is considering passage of the “No Child Left Inside Act.” Don’t laugh; it’s true. (H.R. 3036)
The legislation aims to cure all manner of 21st century ills, from childhood obesity to attention deficit disorder to global warming. Though its focus is on enhancing environmental studies and field trips in schools, it aims to cure the same ill: Americans have lost their way when it comes to the great outdoors.
The issue is genuine enough, and the evidence is overwhelming. From the number of fishing and hunting licenses issued to the number of documented hiking and backpacking trips to visits at national parks (by Americans), nature-based recreation has been in decline since its peak in the 1980s. (Mountain biking, which is increasing in popularity, is a noteworthy exception.)
The issue has attained sufficient status that even The Economist magazine has deemed the topic worthy of advancing a hypothesis.
The received wisdom holds that the decline is attributable to Americans demonstrating vastly more enthusiasm for video games, TV and Web surfing than anything requiring raising one’s heart beat or ” heaven forbid ” sweating.
The Economist blames environmentalists and a dropping crime rate in American cities. The former, this theory holds, are responsible for reducing the number of campsites and accessible outdoor areas and generally playing hob with the entire experience, while the latter has resulted in a renaissance for urban entertainment as opposed to sitting around a campfire being regaled by Ranger Rick.
In addition to all of the above, I’ll blame big business and big bureaucracy.
As for big business, some statistics I dug up indicate that only 14 percent of Americans will have vacations of two weeks or longer this year. Moreover, according to a 2005 article in Businessweek, 31 percent of American college graduates worked more than 50 hours per week in 2003 versus 22 percent in 1980, and the trend was accelerating.
Doesn’t leave much time floating the Grand Canyon, does it?
Nor has enjoying the great outdoors gotten easier. In the 1980s, one could hop in the car and drive to a trailhead without worrying about a use permit, habitat stamp, reservation or any other form of regulatory impediment to spontaneous outdoor recreation.
Fishing regulations, too, were models of simplicity compared to today when, in some states (fortunately not Colorado), one almost feels compelled to have a lawyer streamside to interpret the rules.
Outdoor recreation isn’t the bargain it once was, either. U.S. Forest Service campsites were free or charged only a nominal fee in the 1980s. Last summer, I saw one near Redstone that wanted $30 per night.
Good grief. At least Motel 6 leaves the lights on for you.
“What’s to worry?” one might ask. Fewer people outdoors is a good thing, right?
It means having to dodge fewer back casts at the local fishing hole or smaller lines at the summit register on Fourteeners, maybe even some solitude.
Well, perhaps. But it also means fewer people who care about whether the Denver Water Board de-waters the Western Slope and fewer people who care whether your children or grandchildren will be able to hunt or fish.
In short, it translates into less political support for preserving the special places and resources in the West and traditional ways of life here.
Most troubling, the trend is particularly pronounced among younger Americans.
So, if you care, entice youngsters away from those video screens and take them hiking or fishing. You’re both likely to be glad you did ” and posterity certainly will be.
” Drew Munro is news editor at the Sky-Hi Daily News and a lifelong outdoor enthusiast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-3334, ext. 19610.
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