Outdoor participation decreasing

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Kids participate in the 2018 Barnelopet in March. Skiing is one of the many outdoor activities that has been suffering a nationwide downward trend of young participants since the 1970s and ’80s.

HOUGHTON — The great outdoors is slowly losing participants creating a worrying trend for the future of parks and natural resources.

The downward movement has been noted since the ’70s and continues, said George Madison, Department of Natural Resources fisheries manager for western Lake Superior.

There are many theories for the change, Madison explained. With the internet in recent years, more after-school activities, travel, rushed schedules and even lack of nuclear families for many youths as potential factors.

“When I was young, you could either go play baseball or go hunting or fishing. There wasn’t a whole lot you could do,” Madison said.

Fishing is joined by hunting, skiing, hockey and golf among the outdoor activities losing young participants, he added.

Though it is important to get young kids participating early and forming good memories in the outdoors, that is not where most of them are lost, he said.

According to demographers for the DNR, children are often introduced to the sports or outdoor activities but stop when they reach their teen years, Madison explained. Caught up in the rush of life, school and relationships, young outdoorspeople often do not come back until their mid 30s and 40s, and even then many of them don’t.

The DNR refers to this phenomenon as a “churn out.”

In the big picture, the loss of participants creates funding and research issues for organizations like the DNR, Madison said. Clean water and air is not just a concern for fishers and hunters, and many states are looking for funding solutions.

“Once they get degraded, your quality of living goes down, but we’re pretty fortunate here that we’ve got clean air, clean water, a lot of outdoor resources. Even if you’re not a hunter or fisher, some people enjoy going for walks or picking berries or bird watching,” Madison said.

Options include taxes on outdoor equipment to fund management. In Michigan royalties are paid on oil exploration and extraction, Madison explained, with the funds going to areas like recreation and skate parks.

He feels the method has been successful, though the DNR is still losing funding and has been dialing down its work in recent years.