People play in Looking Glass Waterfall, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina. USDA Forest Service photo by Cecilio Ricardo.
Recreation management is becoming trickier as population densities increase and more and more people seek out natural areas for solitude, beauty, and an antidote to screen time. Research can help recreation managers. For example, a timely new publication from the Pacific Northwest Research Station highlights the importance of outdoor recreation, describes the challenges associated with rising recreation demands, and outlines research opportunities that could help public land managers connect more people to special places and life-enhancing experiences.
Research social scientist Lee Cerveny is one of the editors of “Igniting Research for Outdoor Recreation,” an expansive look at current recreation issues. She explained that tackling these issues was prompted by the need for a national vision for recreation research. “Recreation is the most immediate way that people connect with public lands. It is so important,” she said. “Societal trends and new technologies have changed how people interact with public lands. As the U.S. population diversifies, visitors bring an expanding range of ideas about nature and outdoor recreation.”
Recreation managers and the scientific community are eager to keep pace with these changes. Across the country, demographics are shifting, and income inequality may be contributing to disparities in recreation opportunities. The kinds of recreation the public wants are more diverse than when previous recreation strategies were developed. The publication offers a set of 17 papers that address how multiple changing demands are straining recreation infrastructure, access, and resources.
Other topics explore new approaches to increasing recreation opportunities, social justice issues, the economic impacts of recreation, and how technology affects the way people engage with nature. Guiding these papers is an overall emphasis on diversity, inclusion, health, and rural communities.
Cerveny added that this highly collaborative initiative embraces many aspects of shared stewardship. “We have established connections across siloes of federal agencies, universities, and nongovernmental organizations, creating a multidisciplinary community of practice,” she said. These agency scientists, recreation managers, policymakers, academics, and industry leaders have charted a course that will strengthen sustainable recreation research and management capacity nationally.
Sustainable recreation is crucial for the health of national forests, and these public lands could be managed as an essential component of the nation’s public health infrastructure. Sustainable recreation provides opportunities for the Forest Service to connect with people of every age, ability, gender, race, and nationality. In addition, outdoor recreation feeds a billion-dollar industry. Considering the significant benefits it brings to communities, and conversely the damage that unmanaged recreation can cause to natural resources, there is unprecedented opportunity to make a big difference in the quality of life of all Americans. This report, with its up-to-date framework for understanding visitation trends and social equity issues, lays out a path for institutional changes in the planning and management of outdoor recreation and tourism on public lands.