Northern Research Station News Releases

Fifty Years from Now, What Will We be Doing Outdoors?
Forest Service study projects outdoor recreation shifts in Midwest, Northeast

Cover image from GTR-NRS-120 Outlook for Outdoor Recreation in the Northern United States Newtown Square. PA, September 19, 2013 - The good news is that over the next half a century, Midwest and Northeast residents are likely to retain their interest in outdoor recreation. The bad news is that as the population grows, available public land and water may not keep up with the demand.

A new study by the U.S. Forest Service develops future projections for outdoor recreation as part of the Northern Forest Futures Project, a comprehensive effort to project future forest conditions within the 20 Midwestern and Northeastern states bounded by Maine, Minnesota, Missouri and Maryland. The study, “Outlook for Outdoor Recreation in the Northern U.S.,” is a product of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and is available online at: http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/44345.

Outdoor recreation resources in the Midwest and Northeast are likely to become less available as more people use them. On privately owned land, increased competition for recreational resources could mean more restricted access or rising access prices. On public lands, increased congestion and possible decreases in the quality of the outdoor recreation experience could present important challenges to management, the study suggests.

Lead author Michael Bowker, a research social scientist with the Forest Service’s Southern Research Station, evaluated how population growth along with changing socioeconomic conditions, demographics, land uses, and climate influence the demand for natural resource-based recreation. Bowker and his team developed regional projections of participation and use for 17 natural resource-based outdoor-recreation activities.

The number of participants in 14 of the 17 outdoor recreation activities studied is projected to increase, with visiting interpretive sites, fishing, motorized boat use, downhill skiing, and horseback riding projected to experience the most growth in per capita participation. Activities that are expected to show the biggest average increases in participants between 2008 and 2060 include visiting developed sites, nature viewing, interpretive-area visiting, swimming, motorized water use, and fishing.

For a number of activities, the per capita participation rate is expected to decrease, however expected population growth should be large enough to ensure that only a few – hunting, snowmobiling, and undeveloped skiing – would actually experience a decrease in participants over the next five decades. The five activities that are expected to experience the least growth in participant numbers are: non-motorized boating, hunting, snowmobiling, primitive-area visiting, and undeveloped skiing, which includes cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

While his projections are based on economic, climate and population data, Bowker acknowledges that anticipating the recreational pursuits of an increasingly diverse population is projecting the future, not knowing the future. “The change in recreation preferences at least partly reflects changing demographics in the U.S. public,” Bowker said. “As the northern population ages and becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, no one can predict with certainty how future recreation demand and supply will adjust.”

While pressure on outdoor recreational resources is projected to increase, peak recreation periods may even out as trends toward more flexible work scheduling and telecommuting may allow people to allocate their leisure time more evenly across the seasons and through the week, reducing concentrated peak demands for both public and private sites.

“Choices in outdoor recreation activities have changed over time due to a number of factors, including individual preferences, demographics, technological innovations, economic conditions, and changing recreational opportunities,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Lab. “This research benefits all whom provide outdoor recreation experiences, and ultimately the millions of people in the region who value the outdoors and recreation in natural places.”  

Ashley E. Askew, a post doctoral researcher in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia, co-authored the study with Bowker.

For more information on the Northern Forest Futures Project, visit: http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/futures/

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The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of our nation’s forests, amounting to 850 million acres including 100 million acres of urban forests gracing the nation’s cities, where 80 percent of Americans live. The mission of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit www.fs.usda.gov/.

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Last modified: September 19, 2013