The Great Out­doors

Be­come an out­door men­tor to per­pet­u­ate ap­pre­ci­a­tion for na­ture, wildlife, ad­ven­ture

The Southern Berks News - - FIT FOR LIFE - By Bob Frye ev­ery­bodyad­ven­ Bob Frye is the Ev­ery­body Ad­ven­tures ed­i­tor. Reach him at 412-216-0193 or [email protected]­di­ See other sto­ries, blogs, videos and more at ev­ery­bodyad­ven­tures. com

It’s hap­pen­ing all around the coun­try.

Gov­ern­ment agen­cies, equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers, non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions, they’re all em­pha­siz­ing the need to get more peo­ple in­volved in out­door re­cre­ation, be it hunt­ing and fish­ing, hik­ing and camp­ing, bik­ing and back­pack­ing, pad­dling and ski­ing or any­thing else.

Ear­lier this month, for ex­am­ple, Maine be­came the eighth state to cre­ate an Of­fice of Out­door Re­cre­ation. Four ad­di­tional states have, if not ex­ec­u­tive level of­fices, at least state-level ad­vi­sory coun­cils fo­cused on pro­mot­ing the out­doors.

More than 30 state fish and wildlife agen­cies, mean­while, have in the last few years hired “R3” co­or­di­na­tors — so-called be­cause their fo­cus is on re­cruit­ing, re­tain­ing and re-ac­tiv­ity hun­ters and an­glers.

The rea­sons for all of that are many. One big one is money.

The Out­door In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, a trade or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing many mak­ers of out­door equip­ment, praised Maine’s move in large part be­cause it sup­ports the state’s $8.2 bil­lion dol­lar out­door econ­omy.

“The out­door re­cre­ation econ­omy is a grow­ing in­dus­try ac­count­ing for 2.2 per­cent of our na­tion’s (gross do­mes­tic prod­uct), out­pac­ing many other tra­di­tional sec­tors,” said David We­in­stein, state and lo­cal pol­icy di­rec­tor for the As­so­ci­a­tion.

Main­tain­ing tra­di­tion and po­lit­i­cal clout are other mo­ti­va­tions.

Pro­mot­ing out­door re­cre­ation is a big job, though.

Many state agen­cies are us­ing their own pro­fes­sion­als — peo­ple who work in the out­door field — to get new peo­ple fol­low­ing in their foot­steps. That’s crit­i­cal for wildlife con­ser­va­tion, which re­lies of a dwin­dling num­ber of hun­ters and an­glers for fi­nan­cial sup­port.

But that’s ask­ing a lot Penn­syl­va­nia, for ex­am­ple, has lost tens of thou­sands of hun­ters over the past 30 years. Still, it has more than 600,000, and they sup­port a $1 bil­lion-plus econ­omy in the state.

To boost hunter num­bers by even 10 per­cent, though, means cre­at­ing more than 60,000 new­bies.

There’s no way the Game Com­mis­sion, with a staff of about 400 peo­ple, can do that alone, said Jim Da­ley, a mem­ber of the agency’s board of di­rec­tors. Rather, the com­mis­sion needs to turn more ev­ery­day sports­men into men­tors, he sug­gested.

“What we need is a model where we train the train­ers,” Da­ley said.

That ap­plies to more than just hunt­ing.

The Cole­man Co. and the Out­door Foun­da­tion do an an­nual sur­vey look­ing at trends in camp­ing. They sur­vey campers and ask them things like why they camp, where they go and why.

One thing stands out. Ninety-two per­cent of first­time campers said they were “very likely” or “likely” to go camp­ing again. That’s sig­nif­i­cant, ob­vi­ously.

But what’s re­ally note­wor­thy is their mo­ti­va­tion.

It’s so­cial. Campers said, time after time, that they would go again to hang out with a spouse, fam­ily or friends.

In short, if some­one — a “trainer,” so to speak — asked them to go camp­ing, they prob­a­bly would.

That’s where you and I come in. In years past, many, many peo­ple grew up in en­vi­ron­ments where they were read­ily ex­posed to the out­doors. That’s not so true now.

More ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties with less green space, more in­door ac­tiv­i­ties, busier sched­ules, those things and more con­spire to keep peo­ple from get­ting out­doors. So it’s more im­por­tant than ever that vet­eran hun­ters, an­glers, campers, hik­ers, moun­tain bik­ers, skiers, back­pack­ers and other out­doors types men­tor the next gen­er­a­tion.

How to do it?

Well, here are a half dozen ideas on how to be a good out­door men­tor.

Start lo­cal

Far-off, once-a-year trips to ex­otic wilder­ness ar­eas or na­tional parks are worth­while. But demon­strate that ad­ven­ture can be found close to home, too. The lo­cal county park may seem tame to you. But it’s still na­ture to them. Make out­door fun ac­ces­si­ble and it’s more likely new­com­ers — not just chil­dren, but adults, too — will in­cor­po­rate it into their daily lives.

Think small

Your idea of the per­fect week­end out­doors might in­volve back­pack­ing 20 miles, sleep­ing on the ground and eat­ing noth­ing more than tuna and crack­ers for din­ner. Or pad­dling 10 hours a day. Or fish­ing dawn to dusk. But per­haps that’s too hard­core for your ap­pren­tice, es­pe­cially their fist time out. The goal is to make them want to do this again, after all, so plan some­thing that’s fun with­out be­ing so tax­ing that it seems more about en­durance than en­joy­ment.

Find some­one dif­fer­ent

Out­door re­cre­ation — across all ac­tiv­i­ties — has been for a long time some­thing em­braced most fully by white men. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice statis­tics show that more than 90 per­cent of hun­ters and an­glers na­tion­wide, and nearly 90 per­cent of peo­ple who watch birds, hike, pad­dle and more, are white males. So con­sider invit­ing a fe­male, a per­son or color or even just some­one more ur­ban than you to try the out­doors.

Em­brace tech­nol­ogy

Many out­doors­men and women of a cer­tain age get out­side to es­cape tech­nol­ogy. But it’s a part of life for younger gen­er­a­tions. So in­stead of de­mand­ing that they leave their cell phones at home, en­cour­age them to use them to take pic­tures, share mem­o­ries on so­cial me­dia or down­load maps and apps that help them re­late to and ap­pre­ci­ate what they’re do­ing.

Plan it out

If you’ve got years of cross coun­try ski­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, or a decade of kayak­ing un­der your belt, chances are that when you leave the house, you grab a few es­sen­tial gear items with­out a sec­ond thought. Don’t as­sume your new­comer knows what those are. Did you tell them how to dress? How much wa­ter to bring? What to pack to keep their phone dry? Spend some time be­fore each out­ing mak­ing sure they’re pre­pared. Oth­er­wise, your cold, wet, un­happy com­pan­ion may be done after one trip.

Bring gear

If you hook some­one on the out­doors, they’ll con­trib­ute to the econ­omy. All of us with clos­ets full of gear un­der­stand that all too well. Boy, do we. So when they’re first get­ting started, share some of your bounty. If you’re tak­ing some­one small game hunt­ing, for ex­am­ple, let them bor­row an or­ange vest and hat if you can rather than mak­ing them buy stuff right away. If you’re fish­ing or tent­ing, throw an ex­tra fish­ing rod or sleep­ing bag in the truck. Elim­i­nate ex­pense as a bar­rier to par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Now, none of that guar­an­tees your mentee will stick it out at all, let alone be­come as ar­dent about the out­doors as you are. But there’s a chance.

So share what you love. Plant a seed and see what blooms.


Get­ting new peo­ple — young or old — out­doors often is as sim­ple as ask­ing if they’d like to go.

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