How can we get mil­len­ni­als, next gen­er­a­tion in­ter­ested?

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake jamiedrake­out­doors@out­

Back when I was grow­ing up, there was no In­ter­net and no­body could have prob­a­bly imag­ined a phone small enough to fit in your back pocket.

My par­ents kept a watch­ful eye on my sis­ter and me, suc­cess­fully mak­ing sure nei­ther of us got any­thing other than our ears pierced. She and I both went on to at­tend col­lege — my sis­ter has a doc­tor­ate — and nei­ther one of us had to go into ex­treme debt to fi­nance our de­grees.

We were both born on the tail-end cusp of Gen­er­a­tion X. Re­mem­ber that gen­er­a­tion, the one that thought re­al­ity bites and grunge was ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of re­bel­lion? Now mid­dle-aged, most of us are pretty well-ad­justed, thriv­ing and rais­ing fam­i­lies of our own. That means it’s time to start wor­ry­ing about the next gen­er­a­tion, the mil­len­ni­als.

We fre­quently hear dis­turb­ing facts about this gen­er­a­tion, born from the 1980s through the early 2000s, who aren’t buy­ing houses or set­tling down at typ­i­cal rates. They are post­pon­ing ca­reers and mar­riage and many face crip­pling col­lege debt. Spend some time talk­ing to mil­len­ni­als and it’s clear their val­ues, goals and out­look on life are dif­fer­ent from past gen­er­a­tions.

They are the largest gen­er­a­tion yet, larger than the baby boomers, and com­ing of age right now. Their spend­ing habits are poised to drive big changes in our econ­omy. In­deed, we are al­ready see­ing the ef­fects of that with the pop­u­lar­ity of game-chang­ing com­pa­nies like Lyft, Uber and Airbnb.

A re­cent ar­ti­cle in the magazine BoatUS (Motto: Mak­ing boat­ing safer, more af­ford­able and ac­ces­si­ble) high­lights a big prob­lem fac­ing the out­door in­dustr y right now.

Ti­tled “Why Aren’t Mil­len­ni­als Buy­ing Boats,” the gist of the story is that boat own­er­ship has de­clined 41 per­cent for 20- to 39-year-olds in the past decade. This is a ma­jor trend that’s af­fect­ing many re­tail­ers’ bot­tom lines. Mil­len­ni­als just aren’t buy­ing out­door gear at the same rate as gen­er­a­tions past.

Maybe it’s be­cause they aren’t go­ing to buy a tent if they can just bor­row one for the week­end from the neigh­bor down the street. Why spend so much money on a boat if you

can just use your par­ents’? For cer­tain this gen­er­a­tion prefers the money-savvy shar­ing econ­omy, but I’ve got a gut feel­ing it’s some­thing else, too.

While many re­cent sur­veys point to an uptick in out­door leisure ac­tiv­i­ties such as bird-watch­ing, jog­ging and tar­get-shoot­ing, the level of par­tic­i­pa­tion in other more tra­di­tional recre­ational pur­suits like fish­ing and hunt­ing, the bread-and-but­ter of the out­door in­dus­try, re­mains static or is be­gin­ning to take what looks like a dive off the deep end.

And that’s trou­bling news be­cause less par­tic­i­pa­tion in those ac­tiv­i­ties means less

funds for wildlife con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment.

The Pittman-Robert­son Act that taxes firearms and am­mu­ni­tion and the sim­i­larly-struc­tured Din­gell-John­son Act that taxes cer­tain tackle and fish­ing gear pro­vide mil­lions of dol­lars each year for restor­ing crit­i­cal wet­lands, im­prov­ing wildlife habi­tat and in­creas­ing ac­cess to boat­ing fa­cil­i­ties for pub­lic use, among other things. Hunters and an­glers fund those pro­grams with their li­censes, stamps and tax dol­lars col­lected when they buy gear.

How can we get mil­len­ni­als and the gen­er­a­tion com­ing after them in­ter­ested in the out­doors? Some de­mog­ra­phers and so­ci­ol­o­gists might pro­pose we con­duct aca­demic stud­ies to de­ter­mine a best course of ac­tion. I, how­ever, would say the an­swer is easy. Just get them out­side.

The most im­por­tant fac­tor that af­fects whether a per­son picks up hunt­ing or fish­ing is whether they are in­tro­duced to those ac­tiv­i­ties at a young age.

The story of how my fa­ther got to be an out­doors­man is a prime ex­am­ple of this prin­ci­ple. When his own fa­ther would get home from a long work day on his feet, his idea of re­lax­ing was to read the news­pa­per and smoke his pipe. Spend­ing time out­side wasn’t a pri­or­ity for him.

My fa­ther’s Un­cle Tom did, though, and from the time my dad was old enough to walk down the street by him­self to Un­cle Tom’s house, he spent all his time out­side of school (and I sus­pect quite a bit of the time he was sup­posed to be in school) un­der­foot and keep­ing Un­cle Tom com­pany on his hunt­ing and fish­ing ex­cur­sions in eastern Penn­syl­va­nia.

My fa­ther’s love of all things out­doors, and even writ­ing

this very news­pa­per col­umn for about 30 years, de­rived from the hours he spent with out­side with Un­cle Tom.

My mother’s up­bring­ing was sim­i­lar. She spent all her free time down at the barn, driv­ing her pony cart and, later rid­ing horses. I re­ally hit the jack­pot when I was born to those two peo­ple. My par­ents in­stilled in me a love of spend­ing time out­doors that now I have the priv­i­lege of pass­ing down to my own chil­dren.

Think back to how you learned to tie a knot, see in a scope or fig­ure out which con­di­tions war­rant a Carolina ver­sus a Texas rig. Chances are you can re­mem­ber who ex­actly showed you that stuff and guar­an­teed you’re smil­ing right now just think­ing about it.

If you’ve got a mil­len­nial or any other kid at home, do them — and the out­door in­dus­try and con­ser­va­tion ef­forts — a fa­vor and make them open their bed­room door and come on out.

Maybe you can get them to turn off their phones for a lit­tle while and show them that in some ways re­al­ity can be su­pe­rior to the vir­tual world. Be­cause out here the air is fresh, the fish are bit­ing, and the woods are wait­ing for you to be­gin your next ad­ven­ture.

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