Parks try to lure younger visitors [UPDATED]Published 10:36am Monday, April 30, 2012 Updated 12:38pm Monday, April 30, 2012
The average age of a visitor to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area was 26 in 1969, age 36 in 1991 and 45 in 2007, as reported by the U.S. Forest Service.
“It’s the same people. They became attached, and they keep going back,” says Central Michigan University professor Bob Dvorak. “USA Today” researchers and reporters Judy Keen and Oren Dorell say the average visitor to some of the nation’s parks and wilderness areas is getting grayer, prompting a new emphasis on getting young people to head outdoors.
“Without a generation of kids who have had good experiences with national parks, we may not have enough people who care about national parks to keep them going,” said John Hayes of the Dunes Learning Center. “Developing life-long connections between the public and parks, especially for young people, is a priority from now until the 2016 National Park Service centennial celebration.”
That could be a challenge, according to Keen and Dorell.
A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that people ages 8 to 18 spent an average of seven hours a day on digital media.
“They’re opting to stay indoors, unlike previous generations who enjoyed activities in the outdoors,” said Keen.
That’s true in Fergus Falls and in other communities all across the state and nation. Fewer kids are seen playing sandlot baseball games, playing hopscotch, croquet and shooting hoops outside during the warmer months.
Unlike previous generations, too few kids are taking weekend hikes.
The average age of out-of-state visitors to Glacier and Yellowstone national parks in 2011 was 54, says the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research.
Credit in this area must go to Friends of the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center in Fergus Falls and similar organizations. These groups are making sincere efforts to attract young people to the outdoors, and to emphasize the joys of being with Mother Nature.
But more needs to be done.
Many moms and dads also must make efforts to take their kids to two state parks here in Otter Tail County, namely Maplewood State Park near Pelican Rapids and Glendalough State Park near Battle Lake.
Sadly, many kids who live right here in this county have never been to either one of those state parks.
Last month, a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that three times as many Millennials (those born in the 1980s and 1990s) compared to Baby Boomers (those born from 1946 to 1964) said they made no personal effort to help
A big concern of the National Park Service is maintaining relevance, says James Gramann, a Texas A&M professor writing a book on people-park links. Visitors ages 16 to 24 are most under-represented, he says.
The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has long recognized the importance of connecting youth and city dwellers to national parks, according to “USA Today.”
“Advocates across the country are working tirelessly to connect young people to the science, history and wonder of our national parks,” said Dorell. “The National Park Service is working with the Department of Education to further leverage parks as classrooms and develop outdoors curriculum.”
Those of us who love local, state and national parks need to do our part in encouraging younger generations to take part in the enjoyment of being in the great outdoors.
Tom Hintgen is a retired reporter who writes a weekly column for The Daily Journal.