Yosemite Valley Meadow

Americans Spending Less Time Outside

July 15, 2008 12:42 PM
by Liz Colville
A general decline in visitor attendance at national parks suggests that Americans are turning into a nation of indoorsmen.

30-Second Summary

In 2007, attendance at Yosemite National Park was 11 percent lower than the park’s highest records in the mid-1990s. The data is consistent with a nationwide trend away from outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing, according to the Economist.

The Economist suggests that national parks—and the outdoors in general—are facing stiff competition from cities, which just decades ago held the stigma of high crime rates. Another source of competition is “electronic media,” which was found to correlate closely with decreased outdoor activity in a 2006 study.

Not everyone thinks it’s a bad thing that tourists are heading into town. “Some rangers, indeed, seem to view visitors as an impediment to the smooth running of the parks,” the Economist adds.

Of late, gas prices are another deterrent to national park visits. “The experience has become: drive somewhere, jump out of the car and then drive somewhere else,” tour operator employee Ashley Korenblat told MSNBC. “Many of these parks were built in the '’50s when cars were thought to be nothing but good.”

National park attendance actually increased overall from 2006 to 2007, but efforts are under way to keep those numbers up. The National Park Service and tour operators are finding new ways to recruit visitors to national parks, with sites like the NPS’s WebRangers and guided tours introducing children and reintroducing adults to the outdoors. 

In Congress, the No Child Left Inside Act of 2007 is attempting to allocate federal funds to “environmental education and teacher training” for grades K through 12.

Headline Link: ‘Out of the wilderness’

Background: National park slump and new recruiting efforts

Opinions & Analysis: Are Americans staying indoors?

Reference: No Child Left Inside; guide to national parks


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