Introducing newcomers to the joys of outdoor travel is a primary responsibility of all outdoor travelers. Travel upon towering mountains and down wild rivers has a unique way of making men out of boys, and boys out of men. Pictured are Alex and Dillon Weatherup.
For those of us who were fortunate enough to have settled within the borders of one of the world’s finest parks, it appears we made a wise decision.
Due to the fact that we are surrounded by over five million acres of forested lands, and connected by a watery web of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, Adirondack residents possess a unique capability to remain in touch with nature.
It is everywhere, and so are the opportunities to enjoy it. In many communities, the outdoors is the only recreational venue available. Sadly, there are few movie theaters, recreation centers, bowling alleys or similar places for kids to hangout in the Adirondacks.
If local youth do not possess the skills and knowledge, and have access to the necessary equipment to enjoy the outdoors, they are at a severe disadvantage.
In urban areas, there are typically a wide range of recreational options, from malls to movies theaters, organized sports leagues to sports centers, and museums to concert halls. There is always something happening for youth.
Such is not the case ‘Up North’, where kids usually have to make their own fun, and find their own entertainment. Speaking from experience, when there are not any positive recreational outlets available, kids will usually look for and eventually find, a wide range of negative recreational outlets.
I’d prefer to know my kid was in the bow seat of a canoe headed down river, rather than off somewhere in the back seat of a car, parked in the pines.
Tough times for campers
It appears there is a significant problem with camping these days, however it’s not what most folks would expect. It has nothing to do with leaky tents, hungry bears, the notorious boogieman or any of the usual suspects, such as stinky skunks, bad food, wet wood or a sleeping bag that simply won’t zip up.
The current problem with camping is a lack of interest. According to a recent report on camping trends, camping is on the decline and participation rates are down nearly 10 percent from 2009.
The problem has nothing to do with the gear, food, weather or those pesky chipmunks. The primary reason for the lack of campers taking to the woods during 2010 and 2011 camping seasons was because they “just didn't have time for the outdoors.”
There are fewer Americans camping, fishing and hiking simply because “they have no time.” It is easy to understand the problem, especially with the price of gas, and the time and expense of traveling a long ways to access appropriate outdoor venues.
However, for those fortunate to live in the Adirondacks, the opportunity to hike, bike, fish, ski or paddle is often available depending on the season, within walking distance of home. It isn’t unusual for local residents to walk out their back door and take off for a ski, hike or bike trip for a few hours.
The recent report, which was sponsored by camping gear manufacturers and private campground operators, found that 40 million Americans went camping for a total of 515 million outings in 2010, a decline of about 10 percent from previous years.
A similar online survey of over 38,000 individuals and households was taken in January and February 2011. The online survey revealed that families planned about 8 percent fewer camping trips, compared to the previous year.
When asked about their reasons for fewer planned camping trips, 43 percent blamed lack of time because of work and school commitments and 33 percent said family commitments kept them from camping. Only 4 percent said they planned to camp less because it is too expensive. Camping, an outdoor activities in general, are an entertainment bargain. Where else can a person engage so easily in healthy, high quality, local entertainment so regularly, with so little investment.
According to the survey, the most popular form of camping remains tent camping in public parks, however reports indicate an increasing number of Americans are now staying at private campgrounds that offer such amenities as flush toilets, wireless Internet and heated pools.
It appears Americans still want to play Daniel Boone, but they still need flush toilets, cell coverage, internet access and a host of other modern tools to ‘rough it’ the easy way.
As participation rates for camping continue to experience a steady decline, so too have participation rates for a variety of outdoor pursuits. Across the board, participation rates for children aged 6-17 in activities such as hiking, fishing, biking and other outdoor activities have dropped over 11 percent since 2007. Girls experienced the largest decline falling 16 percent, while boys fell about 7 percent.
It is just another sign of the times we live in, where everyone views everything through the filter of an electronic screen. Knowledge largely comes from a box, not from an actual, hands-on experience. Reportedly, the average teenager now spends approximately 37.5 hours a week, staring at the screen of a cell phone, video game, or a television.
Never before have the children of our nation suffered such a disconnect from the outdoors. It is frightening to realize that by the time they are just six years of age, the average child can readily recognize over 1,000 corporate logos, yet they can’t identify any of the trees, plants, birds or bugs that can be found in their own backyard.
From a public health perspective, the residual effects of this indoor lifestyle are often compounded by a lack of regular exercise. The result are already apparent with a startling rise in rates of childhood obesity, and the onset of one-time adult conditions such as diabetes and a shortened life expectancy.
Connected to the Land
The easiest and most effective method to address the growing disconnect, is to pass on your own personal values and ethics of outdoor recreation, by inviting others to join you in the woods and on the waters. Another safe bet is to join a local Fish and Game or Rod and Gun Club, where other like minded folks gather regularly to enjoy the outdoors.
A simple invitation is the most cost-effective way to improve and increase participation. It is a well established fact that most youth are introduced to outdoor activities by parents, friends, family, or relatives. Being a responsible outdoorsman or women, requires taking on the responsibility of passing down your knowledge to others.
The opportunity to have fun is by far the most common motivation for participating in outdoor activities. Other motivators include discovery, exploration, new experiences, and exercise, but beyond all else, it must be fun; even if they do eventually end up learning something in the process.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.