Outdoor Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), released the latest Outdoor Participation Report, showing about half the U.S. population participated in outdoor recreation at least once in 2018 including hunting, hiking, camping, fishing, canoeing, and biking among many more outdoor activities. Unfortunately, the report highlights a trend that shows just under half the U.S. population does not participate in any form of outdoor recreation.

The report, available here, also highlights the following trends:

  • Less than 20 percent of Americans recreated outside at least once a week;
  • Americans went on one billion fewer outdoor outings in 2018 than they did in 2008; and
  • Kids went on 15 percent fewer annual outings in 2018 than they did in 2012.

Additionally, the report shows a continued gap between the diversity of outdoor participants and the diversity of the U.S. population, specifically where non-Caucasian groups reported going on far fewer outings in 2018 than they did five years ago.

Interestingly, there is a strong trend toward close-to-home recreation. The report indicates that of the people who report they participate in outdoor activity, 63 percent report they go outside within 10 miles of their home. Some bright spots from the report show that female outdoor participation increased by an average of 1.7 percent over the last three years and Hispanic participation was the strongest among ethnic groups.

“We know from study after study that recreating outside, even at minimal levels, greatly benefits an individual’s physical and mental health and also increases academic outcomes and community connections. But, unfortunately, the barriers to getting outside are greater for Americans living in cities, or in areas with fewer transportation options,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director at Outdoor Foundation. “This is why Outdoor Foundation, along with OIA and other like-minded organizations, is working to reach new populations of Americans who don’t get outdoors often, or at all, or don’t see themselves in the outdoors, and encourage them to get – and thrive – outside.”

OIA and its member companies have been concerned about the growing trend and gaps in outdoor recreation and the report confirmed this. For that reason, OIA and the Outdoor Foundation have committed to getting all Americans outside through a two-pronged approach that includes community-based initiatives and local, state and federal policy work.

“At REI Co-op, we’re in the business of unlocking transformational outdoor experiences – whether those happen on a backcountry ski run or on a walk to your neighborhood park,” said Ben Steele, OIA member company REI Co-op’s executive vice president and chief customer officer. “No outdoor activity is too small, and we should be celebrating the myriad ways to get outside as we welcome more people to a life outdoors.”

In 2019, the Outdoor Foundation shifted its focus to underserved communities and now provides larger multi-year grants to build lasting change at the community level. Outdoor Foundation Thrive Outside Community grants bring together partners such as The Trust for Public Land, community organizations, environmental organizations, YMCA, Boys & Girls Club and local leaders in Oklahoma City, Atlanta, San Diego, and Grand Rapids.

“The best chance for us to get more people outdoors, connecting to nature and each other, is for all of us to work together,” said Shanelle Smith Whigham, Ohio state director for The Trust for Public Land. “The Trust for Public Land is seeing this take root in places we work across the country as some of the top businesses, non-profit and government, are meeting communities where they are to provide access to meaningful outdoor experiences. It’s how we make change, and it makes a world of difference.”

“Currently, 90 cents of every health care dollar is spent on treating people with chronic disease,” said Jeff Bellows, vice president, corporate citizenship and public affairs, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “We need to attack the root cause of these diseases, for example, by helping people adopt healthier lifestyles to make sure they are giving themselves, and their families, the best chance at a healthy life. Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) companies have programs around the country that are addressing social determinants of health and are providing people and communities with resources to improve their health and prevent diseases.”

OIA is working with Congress, state and local governments, community leaders and businesses to get people and their communities better access to the outdoors and instill a habit of getting outside regularly. For example, at the federal level, OIA, along with other outdoor groups, is pushing for the full $900 million in funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (HR. 3195/S. 1081). Over 90 percent of LWCF funding is used to increase recreation access to the public. OIA is also pressing Congress to approve the Transit to Trails Act (H.R. 4273/S. 2467) that would support connector transit options in underserved communities to and from public lands. Closer to home, OIA has long supported state and local programs like Colorado’s Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) program which helps to conserve land and provide increased opportunities for outdoor recreation. The key to GOCO’s success has been its ability to balance the protection of iconic land as well as open spaces within or adjacent to communities so that more people have more options to get outside.

“At a time when Americans are experiencing an epidemic of chronic disease, it’s troubling to know that nearly half do not engage in outdoor recreation at all – something we know helps improve the overall quality of life,” said Patricia Rojas-Ungar, vice president of government affairs at Outdoor Industry Association. “This trend is particularly prevalent in communities of color and among children which is why OIA is making it our mission to work to break down barriers to the outdoors so that people can experience the positive benefits outdoor activities can provide.”

Outdoor Foundation has developed the Outdoor Participation Report for over 10 years. The report reflects data gathered during the 2018 calendar year and garnered a total of 20,069 online interviews consisting of people ages six and older.