Original Post by John Glover:
Outdoor recreation is a massive part of the United States’ culture and economy. Roughly 90 percent of adults in the US participate in an outdoor recreation activity at least once a year (Manning, 2010). According to a 2019 Federal survey, outdoor recreation generates about $787.6 billion a year. Additionally, it supports roughly 5.2 million jobs nationwide (Blevins, 2020). Despite the ubiquity of use and tourism of outdoor resources, there are differences in how different demographics can access them. Our text this week identified seven major demographic groups that have variable access: Age, Income, Gender, Education, Occupation, Race, and Stage of family life cycle (Manning, 2010). One additional demographic that I would add is Level of ability. Government services must provide equal opportunity for persons with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (USA Gov, 2021). Managers need to take steps to provide for each demographic, and give them a safe, enjoyable experience that is affordable and readily accessible.
The main step that managers can take is to install more inclusive facilities. Different demographics of people will need access to different resources while they are in natural areas. For example, people visiting with young children will need amenities like changing stations. Furthermore, older individuals may not be able to hike as far. So providing them with shorter trails, or direct car access to scenic areas will help. As mentioned above, people can also have different levels of physical or mental ability that impede their access. Managers need to focus heavily on making as many trails as realistically possible accessible for people with disabilities. Furthermore, people with mental disabilities could benefit greatly from increased exposure to natural areas. Time spent outside has been proven to improve people’s mood and mental health (Ontario Parks, 2020).
People with mental health disabilities are not the only group that could benefit from programs that increase inclusion. Multiple demographics are underrepresented in the use of outdoor areas, including: Gender, Race, and Income. Studies trying to discover why minority populations use outdoor spaces show that it is likely a combination of avoiding racism, being historically marginalized, or having cultural differences (Manning, 2010). In all cases, managers can take steps to improve perceptions and rates of use. Managers need to create safe and inclusive areas, create outreach programs for marginalized groups, and provide education for the benefits of outdoor recreation. Another example is level of income. Level of income tends to affect only a few recreation activities that have high cost thresholds (Manning, 2010). Some natural areas are less accessible, however, because people cannot afford transport to the area. And even though about two-thirds of national parks are free to enter, prices for some of the most popular parks are beginning to increase (Baran, 2018). As prices go up, more people will be excluded from accessing these highly desirable areas. Managers need to use less regressive pricing systems, and find other methods of funding.
Overall, there are three main steps that managers need to take. First, they need to create areas that provide amenities for all types of users, and areas where they feel safe. Managers could provide emergency telephone numbers, and highly detailed trail markers so users could report problems quickly. Second, managers need to get rid of barriers to access like transportation. Parks could begin running shuttle services to transport people from urban areas, where approximately 80 percent of the US population now resides (NPS, 2019). Finally, managers need to improve their education and public outreach programs so all groups can understand how outdoor spaces are accessible to them and can benefit them.
Baran, Michelle. “U.S. Increases Entrance Fees for Popular National Parks.” Travel Weekly. https://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-News/Government/US-increases-entrance-fees-for-popular-national-parks (Links to an external site.)
Blevins, Jason. 2019. “Outdoor Recreation Continues to Be a Mighty Economic Force.” The Colorado Sun. https://coloradosun.com/2020/11/12/outdoor-recreation-economic-force-788-billion-in-2019/ (Links to an external site.)
Manning, Robert. Studies in Outdoor Recreation, 3rd ed.: Search and Research for Satisfaction 3rd Edition. Oregon State University Press, 2010.
National Park Service (NPS). 2019. “By the Numbers.” https://www.nps.gov/subjects/urban/by-the-numbers.htm (Links to an external site.)
Ontario Parks. 2020. “Mental Health Benefits of the Outdoors.” https://www.ontarioparks.com/parksblog/mental-health-benefits-outdoors/ (Links to an external site.)
USA Gov. 2021. “Your Legal Disability Rights.” https://www.usa.gov/disability-rights
Excellent post and nice to “see” you again! Thanks for bringing up the issue of entry fees in national parks. One thought is to develop partnerships with well off transportation companies who would be willing to donate the resources required to shuttle people from the inner city to these parks. However, many would still be turned away by the entry fee. What are some other ideas for methods of funding to get rid of entry fees? How do you sit with the funds being devoted to increasing visitor use as opposed to alternative purposes that undeniably support the park’s conservation?
Comment by John Glover:
Entrance fees are definitely a tricky policy issue. On one hand, they help fund the NPS and natural areas so people can continue to enjoy their amenities. But, as you mentioned, they can also exclude people that cannot afford the fees. I would not support raising user fees to limit the number of visitors to a park. This is a regressive policy solution that would continue to leave people out. To be honest, I think the only reasonable solution is to demand increased funding for agencies like the NPS. These agencies are already critically underfunded, and this is a bipartisan recognized issue as can be seen by the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act under the Trump Administration (NPS, 2021). I think this bill does not go far enough, however, and funding needs to be increased further to lower fees and improve parks. Additional funding could be appropriated to State and Local communities that conserve their natural resources as well.
Lastly, I do not personally believe that funds are being devoted to increasing visitor use at the majority of natural areas. Right now, managers recognize that over-visitation of parks is becoming a growing issue. Famous national parks are seeing multiple millions of visitors annually, and it takes a toll of the parks and their resources. Instead, I think funding is being dedicated more to providing for visitors that are there and improving accessibility. Parks need to find a delicate balance between conservation and access, however. This will become increasingly challenging with climate change stressing parks.
National Park Service (NPS). 2021. “Great American Outdoors Act.” https://www.nps.gov/subjects/legal/great-american-outdoors-act.htm