Illinois Parks & Recreation
May/June 1995 • Volume 26, Number 3
Outdoor Recreation Proven Remedy to Societal Ills
People who recreate on a regular basis, or for whom recreation was important while growing up, are more likely than all others to be completely satisfied with their lives, according to a Recreation Roundtable/Roper Starch Worldwide survey. Those who recreate most often are most likely to be completely satisfied with their choice of careers (36% of those who recreate weekly versus 31% of all others), friends (54% versus 43%), and their perceived success in life (30% versus 26%). However, the Outdoor Recreation in America report suggests that the connection between recreation and family may be at risk. Comparisons with a 1986 study show that the proportion of the public who say recreation was very important while growing up is down 7 points to 25%.
The door-to-door survey of 2, 000 adults was conducted from April 15 to 22, 1994. In addition to linking outdoor recreation participation with quality of life, the study also looked at motivations for and barriers to recreation as well as satisfaction levels with recreational opportunities. The study shows that two-thirds of Americans participate in outdoor recreation every year, and half do so at least every month.
"The conclusions Roper has drawn from its survey are very encouraging," said Francis Pandolfi, Vice-Chairman of the Recreation Roundtable and President of Times Mirror Magazines. "We now know conclusively that the American public associates recreation with three great issues of the 1990s—family, the environment and health. Second, we know that people who participate in recreation often, and those who were raised in families where recreation was an important element, are happier with their lives than the public at large."
The correlation between satisfaction and recreation participation was found at four different educational levels.
Reasons for participating in outdoor recreation reflect a commitment to family life and personal fitness. The number one purpose for participating is to have fun (76%), and other key recreational motivators include relaxation (71%), health and exercise (70%), family togetherness (68%) and stress reduction (66%). Over the last year, the top recreational activity has been pleasure driving, done by 40% of the public. The survey shows other leading activities are swimming (35%), fishing (25%), camping (25%) and bicycling (21%).
Recreation often starts with the family. Parents introduced 43% of the respondents to their favorite activity and 16% found it through another relative. Clubs such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts do not appear to play a major role, as only 2% found their favorite activity through these organizations. The report says that "the single most consistent predictor of outdoor recreation attitudes, participation and satisfaction is the value placed on recreation while growing up. A family that heavily emphasizes and participates in outdoor recreation raises children who turn into recreation supporters, participators and enthusiasts as adults."
According to the survey, one in three Americans took an outdoor recreation vacation last year. Water destinations such as oceans, lakes and rivers drew 40% of the vacationing public. Federal and state parks account for another 38% of recreation vacation spots. A large majority (77%) of the public believe that the availability of local parks is either "excellent" or "good." Seven in ten Americans feel that displays and other programs teaching about history and resources are important. Yet only 12% are satisfied with the interpretive resources currently available.
The study shows regional differences in recreational patterns. Westerners are the most likely to utilize their nation's natural resources, and southerners are the most apt to go fishing. Although people in the Northeast are most willing to volunteer their time in the future to recreation facilities, they show the least enthusiasm for outdoor recreation. People in the Midwest are the most satisfied with the recreational opportunities that currently exist. Ninety-one percent (91%) of the public agrees that "outdoor recreation is a very healthy type of leisure activity."
The survey discovered that time constraints are the principle obstacle to recreation. Nearly 60% say that time is a limiting factor. Less than half cite the expense of recreation as a reason. The idea that only the wealthy can afford to recreate was rejected by three-quarters of the public. Predictions for future recreation indicate that most people (63%) will continue to participate at the same level. One-fifth (22%) think they will become more active while 6% believe they will be less active in recreational activities next year.
In his executive summary of the report, Mr. Pandolfi stated, "The data clearly demonstrates that providing appropriate opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation contributes importantly to other societal goals, including a sound environment, healthy rural economies, strengthened families and better personal health."
A summary of the survey's key findings appears on the following pages.
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Key Findings from Outdoor Recreation Survey
American men and women have significant differences regarding their "favorite" recreation. Fishing is the top choice of men (19% report it as their favorite, versus 7% of women), while swimming is the top choice of women (12% versus 6% of men). Picnicking is three times more popular with women (10% versus 3%) while men are three times more enthusiastic about golf (9% versus 3%).
Forty percent of all Americans report that they have driven for pleasure in the last twelve months. Other leading activities are swimming (35%), picnicking (33%), fishing and camping (both 25%), bicycling (21%), running or jogging (19%), boating and hiking and wildlife viewing (18% each) and photography (15%). On average, each American has participated in nearly four outdoor recreation activities!
The evidence strongly suggests that participation in outdoor recreation at any time of life—and particularly as a child— leads people to have more satisfying and fulfilling lives.
All these findings strongly suggest that outdoor recreation is a decisive factor in creating a satisfied and contented society.
This study shows that outdoor recreation is not just enjoyable—Americans also believe it leads to important social benefits. Overwhelming majorities (about 90%) agree that recreation is healthy, increases appreciation for nature and the environment, and helps parents teach good values to their children.
Outdoor recreation also is perceived to be widely available— not just a luxury for the affluent.
The top motivations of the public for participating in outdoor recreation are "fun," "relaxation," "health and exercise," "family togetherness," "stress reduction," "to experience nature" and "to be with friends."
One-quarter of adult Americans today report that they grew up in a family in which recreation was a very important part of family life, down substantially from the level reported in 1986.
Two-thirds of all Americans participate in outdoor recreation every year, and half do so at least monthly.
About 6% of all Americans have volunteered for the outdoors in the last year, but more than three times this number are interested in doing so.
A vacation spot at an ocean, lake, reservoir or river is the top choice for Americans, followed by federal and state parks.
While most Americans expect to invest about the same amount of time in recreation next year, 22% expect to do more versus only 6% who expect to do less.
Regional differences loom large when it comes to recreation customer satisfaction. Midwestemers are most content, while those from the Northeast are least satisfied.
Fifty-six percent of all Americans report time is the key limitation on recreation activities.
Word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of information on recreational opportunities. Fifty-four percent of Americans says that friends are a major source of information, while 45% list relatives as a key source.
While obtaining information on places to go is not a major problem to most Americans the public is relatively unsatisfied with the amount of instructional, interpretive and environmental information available during the outdoor recreation experience itself.
Downhill skiers are three times as likely to be golfers as the public at large.
RV'ers also like boating. Forty-three percent of those who went RV'ing last year also went boating (30% motorboating). And motorboaters enjoy camping; 45% camped in tents at campgrounds, 34% went back packing/wildemess camping and 24% spent time in a recreational vehicle.
Those who canoe and kayak participate, on average, in 11 different outdoor recreation activities, the highest number of any group of enthusiasts. They are followed closely by those who bicycle off-road and those who backpack.
Fifty-two percent of those who report fishing is their favorite activity began fishing before the age of eight.
Golf stands out among all outdoor recreation activities with the highest percentage of participants (45%) who began the activity after the age of 18. In contrast, only 21% of those who went horseback riding last year began the activity after the age of 18. Golf also ranks next to last in the percentage of participants introduced to the activity by relatives (49%). Only off-road bicycling ranked lower (43%)—not surprising, considering the recent advent of the activity.
Illinois Parks & Recreation* May/June 1995
* Horseback riders are the most frequent participants in their activity (30% report riding several times per week). They are followed closely by bicyclists (both on- and off-road, with 28% and 29%, respectively) and kayakers/canoeists (28%). RV'ers place family togetherness at the top of their list of goals, rating this goal higher than participants in any other outdoor recreation activity (74%). Only 47% of all downhill skiers rated family togetherness as very important. Relaxation was also top-rated by RV'ers (69% saying it was very important), contrasting with a much lower importance placed on relaxation by downhill skiers (47%).
*Excitement was rated as very important to horseback riders (45%), higher than the rating assigned by all other recreationists, including off-road bicyclists (43%).
*Hikers, hunters, RV'ers and backpackers place the greatest importance on experiencing nature during recreation times, with between 60% and 64% of each group reporting this as very important.
*Being with friends was reported to be very important to most recreationists, and especially to RV'ers, off-road bicyclists and canoeists/kayakers (52%).
*"Being alone" is rated as a very important part of a recreation experience by about 30% of the participants in all of the surveyed activities, except for skiing and golfing, where only about 20% rate this as very important.
*Relatively few persons rate competition as very important to their recreation experiences, generally 10-15%. But about one in five motorboaters, golfers, hunters and equestrians rate competition as very important.
*Equestrians are the most eager learners when it comes to recreation. Nearly half of all horse riders place "learning new skills" as a very important reason for participation, twice the percentage of the general population and well above the levels reported by other recreationists.
* Hunters and fishermen who regard fishing as their favorite recreation are least satisfied with the availability of local recreation opportunities; off-road bicyclists, equestrians and hikers are most satisfied (one in three report availability is excellent).
*Overall, mostAmericans see recreation opportunities close to home staying about the same, with 22% reporting improvements and 14% believing opportunities are becoming worse. That pattern is repeated among the participants in each outdoor recreation activity, although frequent participants are more likely to report a perception of change, with the ratio of good to bad remaining similar except for those who report that fishing is their favorite activity, where larger numbers believe that opportunities are worsening rather than improving.
*Backpackers, tent campers, canoeists/kayakers and off-road bicyclists report the highest levels of expectation that they will increase their recreation participation next year (40%+).
*Off-road bicyclists and backpackers are most likely to add to their outdoor recreation vacations next year, with one-half of all participants reporting that chances for an outdoor recreation vacation are higher next year than this year.
*There is a substantial difference in the enthusiasm of different recreationists about the quality and availability of outdoor recreation destinations available to them. While overall one third of the public rates these opportunities as excellent, several groups, including nearly half of all off-road bicyclists, equestrians and canoeists/kayakers give it this rating versus only one in four motorboaters.
One in four Americans perceives the value received for recreation fees as excellent; another 50% rate this value as good. The least enthusiasm for value received comes from motorboaters (16% provide a rating of excellent); the highest rating comes from equestrians.
*Boaters are lowest on the list of satisfaction with activities and instruction available at recreation destinations (16% providing an excellent rating versus 21% overall and 29% from equestrians). Boaters also rate access to public waters for boating and fishing lower than either the public or participants in others activities (23% rate access as excellent versus 25% of the public at large and 33% of the nation's birdwatchers).
*"Lack of a place to go" rates higher as a reason for not participating more in outdoor recreation for off-road motorcyclists, snowmobilers and equestrians than other recreational participants (12% versus 6% who report that lack of places deters them from golfing, hiking or fishing).
*Cost of outdoor recreation is least likely to be cited as a deterrent to more participation by golfers and RV'ers (11 % versus 19% of canoeists/kayakers).
*There were more persons identifying themselves as Republicans than Democrats among those who participated in skiing, golfing and RV'ing over the past twelve months, although slightly more skiers labeled themselves as Independents than as Republicans. All the rest of the activities showed participants more likely to describe themselves as Democrats. On the ideological spectrum, 53% of all RV'ers and half of all hunters described themselves as conservatives. Thirty-four percent of all off-road bicyclists identified themselves as liberals versus 18% of the public overall.
*Off-road bicyclists were the only activity group reporting a majority of homes equipped with a personal computer (51% versus 26% of anglers' homes and 27% of hunters' homes).
The Recreation Roundtable, sponsor of the study, is comprised of 25 leading recreation company executives. The Roundtable seeks to promote high quality and readily available recreation opportunities for all Americans. Copies of the study summary may be purchased through the Recreation Roundtable at 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 726, Washington, DC 20004, (202) 662- 7420.*
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Sam S. Manivong, Illinois Periodicals Online Coordinator