What's Gone Amok in Outdoor Recreation?

By Cottrell, Stuart P.; Cottrell, Richard L. | Parks & Recreation, August 1998 | Go to article overview

What's Gone Amok in Outdoor Recreation?


Cottrell, Stuart P., Cottrell, Richard L., Parks & Recreation


The late 1960s and '70s were the "good ol' days" of outdoor recreation, a time when interest was high, federal funding was abundant for land acquisition, jobs were plentiful, and university curricula in outdoor recreation were springing up all over the country. Since that time, many changes have occurred including decreased funding for land acquisition, cutbacks in operating funds, fewer jobs, and a decrease in the number of universities offering outdoor recreation concentrations. With more pressure being placed on our nation's natural resources as well as a decrease in professional training for outdoor recreation provision and protection, it seems high time to rejuvenate professional interest in our nation's outdoor heritage.

More than 260 million federal, 42 million state, and 10 million local acres of land are available for recreational use in the United States. Among these areas are mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, deserts, beaches, and prairies. Outdoor recreation includes any sort of fun or enjoyment found in the outdoors that involves resource use for an activity or series of activities of choice. This includes driving a 8300,000 motor home to a campground that has telephone, television, and Internet connections at each campsite; a five-day solo backpacking trip in the Marshall Wilderness area; white-water rafting the mighty Gauley; a tie-dyeing experience in a family campground; or walking with a naturalist and enjoying a discussion about flowers and honeybees.

Yet, outdoor recreation is more than just the activity. There is something special found only in that environment necessary for a particular activity that is essential to the meaning of the enjoyment sought. The environment, whether natural or modified by human agencies, contributes to most recreation experiences. The quality of the environment is significant to the quality perceived or satisfaction gained from an outdoor experience. Crowding, standing in line, filthy or inadequate facilities, unsafe conditions, erosion, excessive population, or just plain boredom may send users in search of a better place. Therefore, management for outdoor recreation, as well as protection of the resource, becomes a delicate balance between provision and restriction. In this article, we hope to provide some helpful advice for you, your agency, and your clientele.

What Gives Us the Right?

After 10-plus years of working in the professional ranks in both the public and private sectors, I [Stuart] obtained my degree and am now an educator in leisure sciences. My father, Richard Cottrell, has taught students through consortia, workshops, seminars, and lectures at more than 20 universities. His professional field experience is a bit broader than mine and includes 39 years with the U.S. Forest Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); he has also served as a consultant for folks all across America, with NATO in Europe, and with the Japanese government. He and I have conducted numerous applied research studies to determine what users really think about their outdoor experiences. This combined experience, enjoyment, and interaction with other professionals provides us an overview of what has happened in outdoor recreation, what is happening, and what we can do to help the profession.

To Which Philosophy Do You Adhere?

It's interesting to note that those professionals we consider outstanding contributors to the field appear to follow a professional philosophy that pertains to their approach to leisure service provision. Do you have an outdoor recreation philosophy? We think the best guidance comes from the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC) report of 1962. The following quote is found on the back cover of all 27 volumes of the report:

The outdoors lies deep in American tradition. It has had immeasurable impact on the nation's character and on those who have made its history. …

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