Adventure Recreation: Coming Soon to Your Community; Whitewater in Cities? Mountain Biking without Mountains? Outdoor Adventure Gains Popularity in "Backyards" Everywhere

Article excerpt

Unless a person lived in areas conducive to adventure recreation--such as canoeing and kayaking, bouldering and rock climbing, or mountain biking--considerable travel used to be necessary to participate in such activities. This is changing, however, as the number of artificially created recreation environments in cities and communities continues to grow around the United States (Priest & Gass, 2001). Local schools are building ropes and challenge courses for physical education programs; city parks and recreation departments are constructing whitewater parks for canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts; county park departments are transforming portions of their greenways into mountain bike trails; and communities are beginning to see the potential of large rocks for bouldering activities. Priest and Gass predicted that these numbers will continue to grow considerably in North America, Europe, and Australia.

Benefits of Adventure Recreation Close to Home

Having adventure recreation venues close to home addresses a number of problems faced by Americans today. For families with small children, keeping up with daily schedules of work, extracurricular activities, and civic obligations comes at the expense of longer vacations to far-away places (Cooke, 2004; Egan, 2006). This may also be in response to rising fuel costs and a fast-paced lifestyle. Having new and exciting adventure recreation opportunities available locally makes staying closer to home an appealing option.

Another benefit of the provision of local adventure recreation is that it addresses "nature-deficit disorder," a problem noted by Richard Louv (2005), author of Last Child in the Woods. Louv contends that children today prefer to stay indoors, surrounded by technologies, such as PlayStation 2, XBox, and the Internet. A preference for staying indoors can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder, depression, and other problems (Louv). Conversely, children who spend considerable time outdoors, tend to be more active and healthier than their sedentary counterparts. Louv argues that children's creativity and critical-thinking skills are enhanced when time is spent in nature, camping, creating tree forts, playing in ponds, and the like. Finally, time spent in nature can equip children with the skills needed to deal with stress and help them to improve their concentration skills (Louv). Adventure recreation provided locally can serve as an impetus to mitigate the effects of nature-deficit disorder.

Another component of providing local adventure recreation stems from changes in physical education curricula around the United States. Called "New P.E.," these curricular changes focus more on individual health and fitness and less on the acquisition of athletic skills (Lambert, 2000). Some activities that support New P.E. are outdoor, adventure-based, and individual-oriented. Climbing walls and rope courses are being installed in school gymnasiums, and more physical education teachers are beginning to use local resources such as city and county recreation departments as their classroom. For example, some physical educators teach geocaching as part of their curriculum. Geocaching, a high-tech outdoor adventure activity, requires participants to search and find hidden treasures in outdoor areas, such as parks, by using Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers and satellite data (Schlatter & Hurd, 2005).

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In the Midwest, there is a lack of outdoor amenities, such as mountains, oceans, and whitewater rivers. Young people may attend college in their home state to take advantage of in-state tuition and proximity to their families, then leave for jobs in places with more outdoor recreation opportunities. This creates a "brain drain" (ECONorthwest, 2006, p. ii), the loss of highly educated citizens to the detriment of state and local economies. Providing outdoor adventure opportunities in Midwestern communities could improve the quality of life and help alleviate the tendency for young people to move away. …