Americans love the outdoors. Millions of Americans spend their free time participating in outdoor activities. A Harris poll conducted by Humphrey Taylor in 2003 found that of forty-six leisure-time activities cited by Americans when they were asked to list their two or three favorites, approximately a third were activities or sports in which participants were directly involved with nature.
A survey exploring Americans' preferences in this category conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide for the Recreation Roundtable, Outdoor Recreation in America 2003, found that the top outdoor recreation activities that interviewees had participated in during the preceding year were fitness or recreational walking, driving for pleasure, swimming, picnicking, fishing, bicycling, and jogging. Other high-ranking choices included camping, hiking, outdoor photography, and bird watching. (See Table 3.1.)
While the popularity of many activities remained constant from 2001 to 2003, there were changes in some categories. The percentage of those who cited driving for pleasure increased 7%, from 36% to 43%, while the popularity of recreational walking dropped 3%, from 49% to 46%. Overall, six of the tracked activities showed an increase in participation from 2001, while twenty-one showed a decline. (See Table 3.1.)
Although the total number of Americans who participated in outdoor recreation at least once during the year fell only slightly overall, the frequency of participation declined significantly, according to Outdoor Recreation in America 2003. The number of Americans who participated in outdoor activities in 2001 at least once a month was 43%, but this number fell to 36% in 2003. Also, the number who said they participated in some form of outdoor recreation less often than once a month jumped, from 28% in 2001 to 41% in 2003.
The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) has observed that for most Americans, participation in outdoor activities, even when these activities are among their favorite things to do, is infrequent and often associated with vacation, travel, or summer camp. With increasingly busy lives, many Americans do not take time to reconnect to the natural world and participate in outdoor activities. Still, many Americans do find the time to pursue some form of outdoor recreation, and the SGMA's 2004 edition of its annual Sports Participation Topline Report (see Table 1.6 in Chapter 1) offered statistics and insight about outdoor enthusiasts including:
- In 2003 the number of recreational swimmers (96.4 million) increased by more than 4% from 2002.
- In 2003 tent campers (41.9 million) outnumbered recreational vehicle (RV) campers (nineteen million) more than two to one.
- Although overall participation in fishing had declined slightly since 1993, there were almost fifty-three million freshwater, fly, and saltwater anglers in the United States.
- The number of Americans participating in horseback riding increased by more than 9% in 2003 from the previous year, to sixteen million.
- The popularity of trail running had increased by 16% since 1998, to 6.1 million participants.
- Americans' favorite outdoor water sports in 2003 were canoeing, jet skiing, and snorkeling, each with more than ten million participants.
- The top two outdoor winter activities in 2003 were ice skating, with 17 million participants, and downhill skiing, with 13.6 million.