Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Way Is Was, the Way It Is. (ORRRC at 40!)

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Way Is Was, the Way It Is. (ORRRC at 40!)

Article excerpt

In 1960, when the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission did the first participation surveys, transistor radios, Chevy Impala V8 convertibles, Elvis Presley, the Cold War, John F. Kennedy and family vacations were among the thoughts in people's minds. Just more than 60 percent of the country's population lived in metropolitan areas. Almost 90 percent of the population was non-Hispanic white, 56 percent had not graduated from high school and there were less than 46 million families, most of whom had just one car. Picnicking, driving for pleasure and swimming were the most popular outdoor activities, and few others came close.

Today, megatopics include terrorism, corporate scandals, the stock market downturn, urban sprawl, DVDs and monster SUVs. ORRRC made projections that our country's population would grow to more than 351 million by 2000 and that just more than 71 percent of that population would be urban. Indeed, most people in this country are now urban, but the percentage is more than 80 percent and still rising. Although population has grown to 281 million--70 million less than ORRRC predicted--we've still added more than 100 million in the last four decades. Of our contemporary population, a much lower 75 percent are non-Hispanic white, just 17 percent instead of 56 percent haven't finished high school and there are nearly 75 million households, many of which have at least three cars. Still, in the midst of all this change, the list of most popular activities is familiar--walking for pleasure, nature study and walks, picnicking, driving for pleasure and sightseeing.

ORRRC left quite a legacy to this country. Not only did it inspire numerous highly significant congressional acts (e.g., creating the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the National Wilderness Preservation System and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System), it also started a system of national assessments of the demand and supply of outdoor recreation. What a magnificent piece of work that first ORRRC national assessment was--27 commissioned reports that ranged from an examination of the land resource to a look at urban open space to a study of financing options.

For me, one of the more important was Report 19, the National Recreation Survey. Under the leadership of Abbott Ferriss, that survey asked 62 questions of 15,609 people 12 years or older over a year. The current equivalent, the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, operates almost continuously, accumulating a nearly 65,000-respondent data base. From lessons learned from that first national assessment of outdoor recreation that ORRRC did, we conduct every 10 years a comprehensive assessment of demand and supply. The table on p. 64 compares the percentage of the population 12 or older in 1960 that participated in each of the 23 activities covered in ORRRC Report 19 with similar data collected in 2000 and 2001. ORRRC asked about participation over the last s months; we now ask about the last 12 months. But because we used the ORRRC participation percentages in the highest-use season for 1960-61, we believe the numbers to be comparable with the figures for 2000-01.

Then, picnicking, driving, swimming and walking topped the national list. These are relatively passive activities requiring little in the way of special equipment, skill or money. Outdoor activities-hiking, camping, snow skiing, canoeing, mountain climbing and sailing--weren't all that popular. Then, fishing and hunting captured a great deal of attention--ORRRC devoted a report to each one of these activities. Technology was vastly different and limiting, with motor boats often being 35 horsepower or less, and camping gear being mostly of canvas and heavy. Other than swimming, water and snow sports participation wasn't widespread. Reported participation in activities specifically to learn about and photograph nature was quite limited.

Not only has the population increased, but so too have the percentages of persons 12 or older who participate in the 23 ORRRC outdoor activities. …

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