Outdoor Recreation

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chapter 3


Americans love the outdoors. Millions of Americans spend their free time participating in outdoor activities. A Harris poll conducted by Humphrey Taylor in 2003 found that of forty-six leisure-time activities cited by Americans when they were asked to list their two or three favorites, approximately a third were activities or sports in which participants were directly involved with nature.

A survey exploring Americans' preferences in this category conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide for the Recreation Roundtable, Outdoor Recreation in America 2003, found that the top outdoor recreation activities that interviewees had participated in during the preceding year were fitness or recreational walking, driving for pleasure, swimming, picnicking, fishing, bicycling, and jogging. Other high-ranking choices included camping, hiking, outdoor photography, and bird watching. (See Table 3.1.)

While the popularity of many activities remained constant from 2001 to 2003, there were changes in some categories. The percentage of those who cited driving for pleasure increased 7%, from 36% to 43%, while the popularity of recreational walking dropped 3%, from 49% to 46%. Overall, six of the tracked activities showed an increase in participation from 2001, while twenty-one showed a decline. (See Table 3.1.)

Although the total number of Americans who participated in outdoor recreation at least once during the year fell only slightly overall, the frequency of participation declined significantly, according to Outdoor Recreation in America 2003. The number of Americans who participated in outdoor activities in 2001 at least once a month was 43%, but this number fell to 36% in 2003. Also, the number who said they participated in some form of outdoor recreation less often than once a month jumped, from 28% in 2001 to 41% in 2003.

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) has observed that for most Americans, participation in outdoor activities, even when these activities are among their favorite things to do, is infrequent and often associated with vacation, travel, or summer camp. With increasingly busy lives, many Americans do not take time to reconnect to the natural world and participate in outdoor activities. Still, many Americans do find the time to pursue some form of outdoor recreation, and the SGMA's 2004 edition of its annual Sports Participation Topline Report (see Table 1.6 in Chapter 1) offered statistics and insight about outdoor enthusiasts including:

  • In 2003 the number of recreational swimmers (96.4 million) increased by more than 4% from 2002.
  • In 2003 tent campers (41.9 million) outnumbered recreational vehicle (RV) campers (nineteen million) more than two to one.
  • Although overall participation in fishing had declined slightly since 1993, there were almost fifty-three million freshwater, fly, and saltwater anglers in the United States.
  • The number of Americans participating in horseback riding increased by more than 9% in 2003 from the previous year, to sixteen million.
  • The popularity of trail running had increased by 16% since 1998, to 6.1 million participants.
  • Americans' favorite outdoor water sports in 2003 were canoeing, jet skiing, and snorkeling, each with more than ten million participants.
  • The top two outdoor winter activities in 2003 were ice skating, with 17 million participants, and downhill skiing, with 13.6 million.


According to Outdoor Recreation in America 2003, there was a correlation between education and income and


Participation in outdoor recreation activities, 1994–2003
Note: NA denotes not asked
source: Roper ASW, "Outdoor Recreation Participation in 2003," in Outdoor Recreation in America 2003: Recreation's Benefits to Society Challenged by Trends, The Recreation Roundtable, January 2004, http://www.funoutdoors.com/files/ROPER%20REPORT%202004_0.pdf (accessed September 10,2004)
Walking for fitness/recreationNA4539424742574946
Driving for pleasure403633343935413643
Campground camping161612121521171818
Outdoor photography151510131512171717
Wildlife viewing181510141615162016
Visiting cultural sitesNANA12141816161715
RV camping886779998
Wilderness campingNANANANANANA887
Horseback riding655446566
Offroad vehicle driving555577776
Target shooting865457666
Mountain biking554446555
Personal watercraft (e.g. jet skis)NANANA355565
Downhill sking665554454
In-line skatingNA44565563
Rock climbing443343443
Snorkeling/scuba diving433334343
Cross-country skiing232221222

rates of outdoor activity participation. College graduates participated in an average of 5.9 activities, compared to 3.7 for those with a high school diploma or less. Households with income above $75,000 per year reported 5.8 activities, while those earning $30,000 or less reported 3.8.

Participation rates differed for Americans of different ethnic backgrounds. Whites engaged in an average of 5.2 different activities, while Hispanics reported 3.5 and African Americans 2.3. Americans in the Midwest and West were far more likely to participate in outdoor activities than those in the Northwest and South. Northeasterners participated in an average of just 3.6 outdoor activities during the year and southerners 3.8, compared to the national average of 4.7. Those in the Midwest reported participation in seven different activities annually, while westerners reported 4.7 and had the lowest number reporting no activity during the year—just 6%, half the national average.

Participation rates varied between different age groups. In 2003, 19% of Americans aged eighteen to twenty-nine participated in outdoor activities several times per week, down by almost a third from the 27% who participated in 2001. Monthly participation in this age group dropped from 51% to 41%, and the number who said they participated less than monthly, or never, almost doubled from 21% to 38%. The decline in participation was less marked in the other age groups surveyed, although the oldest Americans, those sixty and above, showed a similar drop among the most frequent participants, while the number who engaged in a monthly activity remained unchanged. (See Table 3.2.)

A Family Affair

Recreation often starts with the family, and many Americans began the recreational activities they enjoy as adults when they were children. Parents who emphasized and participated in outdoor activities raised children who were more likely to become participants in and supporters of outdoor activities. Families with children reported higher


Frequency of outdoor recreation participation by age, 2001 and 2003
Most frequent participants (several times per week), as % of all in categoryParticipated at least monthly, as % of all in categoryLeast frequent participants (never, less than monthly), as % of all in category
source: Roper ASW, "Outdoor Recreation Participation in 2003," in Outdoor Recreation in America 2003: Recreation's Benefits to Society Challenged by Trends, The Recreation Roundtable, January 2004, http://www.funoutdoors.com/files/ROPER%20REPORT%202004_0.pdf (accessed September 10, 2004)
All ages2126−53643−74128+13

outdoor recreation participation rates than those without. Individual members of families reported an average of 5.4 activities per year and had significantly higher rates than the average for such activities as swimming, picnicking, tent camping, walking, fishing, camping, and bicycling.


National and State Parks

One of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors is to visit America's national parks. Since Congress established Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the United States has created a system of national parks occupying huge tracts of land. In 2004 the 83.6-million-acre National Park System encompassed 388 parks, monuments, preserves, memorials, historic sites, recreational areas, seashores, and other areas. In addition to providing recreation for more than 266 million visitors each year, the parks preserve habitats ranging from arctic tundra to tropical rain forest and protect many thousands of North American plant and animal species. (See Table 3.3.)

The park system is administered by the National Park Service (NPS), a Department of Interior agency. Established in 1916, the park service employed more than fourteen thousand permanent personnel in 2003 along with approximately four thousand temporary or seasonal workers. An additional twenty-five thousand people worked for some 630 concessionaires, private businesses that the NPS contracted with to provide lodging, transportation, food, shops, and other services in 128 of its park units.

The National Park Service manages national parks, such as Yosemite National Park in California and Yellowstone National Park, mostly in Wyoming; national monuments, such as the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.; and national commemorative sites, such as the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania, the Vicksburg battlefield in Mississippi, and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York. The system also includes some lakes, rivers, and seashores. The most popular sites to visit in 2003 included the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachian Mountains, with 18.3 million visitors; the Golden Gate National Recreation Area near San Francisco, with 13.9 million; and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, with 9.4 million. (See Table 3.4.)

NPS sites are found in forty-nine of the fifty states (all but Delaware), the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. In 2003 sites in California received the most visits (34.2 million), followed by those in the District of Columbia (22 million), Virginia (21.9 million), and North Carolina (20.4 million). (See Table 3.5.)

Camping enables visitors to stay overnight in the national parks; during 2002 nearly 3.4 million tent campers, over 2.4 million RV campers, and about 2.5 million backcountry campers stayed on NPS grounds. Not surprisingly, park visitation was greatest in the summer months, in 2003 peaking at about 1.3 million visits per day in July. It was lowest in January, when just under 368,000 Americans visited NPS sites on an average day. (See Figure 3.1.)

In addition, many millions more visited national forests or lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management for car or motorcycle tours, hunting, fishing, boating, and winter recreational activities. Others traveled to state, county, and city parks and recreation areas.

Volunteering Outdoors

America's public lands rely to a significant extent on volunteers to perform many vital tasks, including serving as guides, helping restore wildlife habitats, and assisting with geological or archaeological surveys. More than 125,000 volunteers spent time working for the NPS in 2002, donating more than 4.5 million hours of service, which gave the parks the equivalent of two thousand additional full-time workers.


Recreation visits to National Park Service areas, by type of area, 2003
Areas administered by typeRecreational visitAreas reporting visitsAreas administered
source: "Table 1. 2003 Recreation Visits by Type of Area," in National Park Service Statistical Abstract 2003, National Park Service, 2004, http://www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/docs/Abstract-Final2003.pdf (accessed September 10, 2004)
International historic site001
National battlefield1,533,0051011
National battlefield park2,278,34733
National battlefield site001
National historic site9,238,5937477
National historical park25,054,2463741
National lakeshore3,659,56644
National memorial23,115,9592829
National military park5,352,73999
National monument19,987,6626974
National park63,430,7785757
National parkway31,079,20744
National preserve2,140,8811818
National recreation area47,727,7431718
National reserve79,87912
National river3,800,06345
National scenic trail003
National seashore18,902,9191010
National wild and scenic river797,120510
Parks (other)7,920,934911
National Park Service total266,099,641359388


Ten most visited units of the National Park System, 2003, and ten most visited national parks, 2003
source: "10 Most Visited Units of the National Park System (2003)" and "10 Most Visited National Parks (2003)," National Park Service, 2004, http://www.nps.gov/pub_aff/refdesk/10MVUNP2003.pdf (accessed September 9, 2004)
10 most visited units of the National Park System (2003)
Park unitRecreational visits
1.Blue Ridge Parkway18,344,049
2.Golden Gate National Recreation Area13,854,750
3.Great Smoky Mountains National Park9,366,845
4.Gateway National Recreation Area8,567,769
5.Lake Mead National Recreation Area7,915,581
6.George Washington Memorial Parkway6,043,508
7.Natchez Trace Parkway5,555,984
8.Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area5,059,410
9.Gulf Islands National Seashore4,939,771
10.Grand Canyon National Park4,124,900
10 most visited national parks (2003)
Park unitRecreational visits
1.Great Smoky Mountains National Park9,366,845
2.Grand Canyon National Park4,124,900
3.Yosemite National Park3,378,664
4.Olympic National Park3,225,327
5.Rocky Mountain National Park3,067,256
6.Yellowstone National Park3,019,375
7.Cuyahoga Valley National Park2,879,591
8.Zion National Park2,458,792
9.Acadia National Park2,431,062
10.Grand Teton National Park2,355,693



Recreation visits to National Park Service areas by state, district, or territory, 2003
StateVisits 2002Visits 2003Percent change
source: "Table 2. 2003 Recreation Visits by State," in National Park Service Statistical Abstract 2003, National Park Service, 2004, http://www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/docs/Abstract-Final2003.pdf (accessed September 10, 2004)
American Samoa1,9380−100.0%
District of Columbia24,373,89322,027,057−9.6%
New Hampshire34,23930,907−9.7%
New Jersey5,861,7765,637,151−3.8%
New Mexico1,818,5511,825,3050.4%
New York15,719,92814,790,501−5.9%
North Carolina22,594,03520,379,780−9.8%
North Dakota524,469550,9245.0%
Puerto Rico1,278,4071,198,105−6.3%
Rhode Island58,24354,482−6.5%
South Carolina1,562,1781,500,968−3.9%
South Dakota4,012,9814,089,4581.9%
Virgin Islands853,916975,86214.3%
West Virginia1,938,0351,742,833−10.1%
National Park Service total277,299,880266,099,641−4.0%

A 2003 survey by Roper Starch Worldwide for the Recreation Roundtable found that 21% of Americans said they would be interested in volunteering their time to do work on publicly owned land. Of those who expressed interest, nearly a quarter said they had given of their time during the previous year. Those who expressed the most interest in volunteering tended to be those who actively participated in outdoor recreation—57% of canoers and kayakers, 52% of skiers, 47% of both backpackers and climbers, 46% of wildlife viewers, 44% of hikers, and 43% of mountain bikers, said they would be interested in donating their time to work on public lands.

Rails to Trails

Many railways around the country have been abandoned by the railroads. Almost every state has turned some of that acreage into public trails for hiking, jogging, biking, and even horseback riding. According to information published on the Web site of the Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) (www.railtrails.org), the ten states that had done the most converting of rail mileage as of 2004 were Wisconsin (1,394 miles), Michigan (1,311), Minnesota (1,244), Pennsylvania (1,185), New York (583), Washington (578), Iowa (546), Ohio (536), Illinois (490), and West Virginia (442). The most popular individual trail was the W&OD Railroad Trail in Virginia with about three million users per year, followed by the Minuteman Bikeway in Massachusetts with an estimated two million users per year; the Pinellas Trail in Florida and the Iron Horse State Park Trail in Washington, each with 1.2 million; and the East Bay Bicycle Path in Rhode Island, with 1.1 million annual users.


America is a huge country with many millions of square miles of natural wilderness and a rich tradition of enjoying nature. Many Americans find wildlife-associated recreation a source of immense pleasure, and some of the most popular recreational activities involve wildlife and wild terrain.

According to data gathered by the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Commerce in a survey conducted in 2001, more than 30% of Americans were involved in wildlife-related recreation activities and participation had increased by 5% since 1996. (See Table 3.6 and Table 3.7.) Participation varied by state, with Alaska reporting the highest proportion of participants (70%). Other states with high levels of participants included Vermont (67%), Minnesota (65%), Montana (63%), Oregon (59%), Wyoming (59%), South Dakota (58%), Washington (56%), Iowa (55%), New Hampshire (53%), Arkansas (52%), Idaho (52%), and Oklahoma (51%). (See Table 3.6.)


Participants in wildlife-related recreation by participant's state of residence, 2001
(Population 16 years old and older. Numbers in thousands)
Total participantsSportspersonsWildlife-watching participants
Participant's state of residencePopulationNumberPercent of populationNumberPercent of populationNumberPercent of population
Note: Detail does not add to total because of multiple responses. U.S. totals include responses from participants residing in the District of Columbia.
source: "Table 50. Participants in Wildlife-Related Recreation by Participant's State of Residence: 2001," in 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Commerce, 2002, http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/FHW01.pdf (accessed September 10, 2004)
United States, total212,29882,3023937,8051866,10531
New Hampshire954506531751845047
New Jersey6,3001,99332669111,69427
New Mexico1,337595452561947135
New York14,2013,990281,493113,52425
North Carolina5,9182,33039982171,88432
North Dakota483228471703513528
Rhode Island76528037961324232
South Carolina3,0801,37545674221,07935
South Dakota559326581763125145
West Virginia1,447694483532451736

Not surprisingly, states with ample opportunities for wildlife recreation—observing wildlife, photographing, and feeding birds or other wildlife—reported higher levels of participation than states better known for other environmental attractions. For example, Hawaii, which is better known for its beaches, hotels, and resorts, reported that just 21% of its population engaged in wildlife recreation. Similarly, Nevada, with its urban tourism attracting employees and visitors to the cities of Las Vegas and Reno, reported that just 30% of its residents participated in wildlife recreation. (See Table 3.6.)

National Survey

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is to conserve and enhance the nation's fish, wildlife, and habitat. For conservation efforts to be effective,


Wildlife watching participants by days and expenditures, 1996–2001
(Population 16 years old and older. Numbers in thousands)
1996200111996–2001 Percent change
1All 2001 expenditures are adjusted to make them comparable to 1991 estimates
*Not different from zero at the 5 percent level
source: "1996–2001 Wildlife Watching Participants, Days, and Expenditures," in 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Commerce, 2002, http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/FHW01.pdf (accessed September 10, 2004)
Wildlife watching, total62,86810066,1051005
Observe wildlife44,0637042,1116424*
Photograph wildlife16,0212513,93721213*
Feed wild birds or other wildlife54,1228653,988820
Visit public parks or areas11,0111810,981170
Maintain plantings or natural areas13,4012113,072202*
Observe wildlife22,8783620,08030212
Photograph wildlife12,038199,42714222
Feed wildlife9,976167,07711229
Days, nonresidential313,790100372,00610019*
Observing wildlife278,68389295,345796*
Photographing wildlife79,3422576,3242124*
Feeding wildlife89,60629103,3072815*
Wildlife-watching expenditures, total (2001 dollars)$29,062,524100$33,730,86810016*
Wildlife-watching equipment8,783,405306,850,97120222*
Auxiliary equipment853,3743716,9002216*
Special equipment7,148,6612516,049,11148125

the FWS needs to know how people use fish and wildlife resources. Since 1955 the FWS has conducted a periodic survey of fishing, hunting, and wildlife-related recreation. The 2001 FWS survey and report was the tenth such study conducted to determine how often recreationists participated and how much they spent on their activities.

The 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Commerce, 2002), found that more than eighty-two million Americans participated in some form of wildlife-related activity in 2001.

During 2001, according to the survey, 34.1 million people in the United States fished, 13 million hunted, and 66.1 million enjoyed other forms of wildlife-watching recreation, including photographing or feeding animals. Among anglers, hunters, and nonconsuming participants (those who did not capture or kill the animals or fish), many of those who participated in one activity often engaged in the other activities as well. For example, in 2001 more than two-thirds (71%) of hunters also fished, and more than one-quarter (27%) of anglers hunted.


According to the 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, the number of Americans fishing in 2001, 34.1 million, decreased only slightly from 1996, when there were 35.2 million anglers. The number of hunters, thirteen million, also dropped from fourteen million in 1996. Despite these declines, an examination of trends revealed that the number of anglers outpaced U.S. population growth at a rate of two to one from 1955 to 2001. Although the number of hunters increased by 31% during the same period, this rate of growth did not keep pace with U.S. population growth. (See Figure 3.2.)

Participation in wildlife watching grew to 66.1 million in 2001, from 62.9 million in 1996. The percentage of people who took trips away from their homes to observe, feed, or photograph wildlife fell by 19% from 1980 (the first year it was measured) to 2001. The number of people who enjoyed these activities within one mile of their homes (62.9 million) increased by 4% from 1996. (See Table 3.7 and Figure 3.3.)


In 2001 Americans spent about $108 billion, representing about 1% of the gross domestic product, on wildlife-related recreation. Fishing accounted for approximately 32% of that expenditure, wildlife-watching activities, 36%, and hunting, 19%. (Another 13% was unspecified.) (See Figure 2.4 in Chapter 2.) Of the money spent, 59% was for equipment, 28% was trip-related, and 13% fell into the "other" category.

Who Participates in Wildlife Sports?

In 2001 the greatest number of wildlife enthusiasts lived in California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois. (See Table 3.6.) According to 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, the greatest percentage and the largest number of anglers and hunters were between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-four. (See Table 3.8.) The majority were male: 74% of the anglers and 91% of the hunters. Of those who watched wildlife, 54% were female, while 34% of all women watched wildlife at their residences. Most hunters were white (96%), while 2% were black and 2% were members of other races. Among anglers, 93% were white, 5% were black, 1% were Asian, and 1% were other races. Among those who participated in nonresidential wildlife-watching activities, 95% were white, 3% were black, 1% were Asian, and 1% were other races.

Among anglers, 35% had a high school education, 27% had one to three years of college, and 26% had four



years of college or more. Only 12% had fewer than twelve years of school. Among hunters, 38% had a high school diploma, 26% had one to three years of college, 22% had four years of college or more, and only 14% had fewer than twelve years of school. For those who enjoyed wildlife-watching activities, 27% had a high school diploma, 27% had one to three years of college, and 37% had four or more years of college. Only 8% had less than a high school education.


In 2001, thirteen million Americans sixteen years and older enjoyed hunting a variety of game animals within the United States. In order of preference, hunters sought big game (deer, elk, bear, and wild turkey), small game (squirrels, rabbits, pheasants, quail, and grouse), migratory birds (doves, ducks, and geese), and other animals (groundhogs, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes). Hunters spent $20.6 billion on trips and equipment during 2001. (See Table 3.9.) Collectively, they hunted 228 million days and took two hundred million trips.

People living in the west north-central states were most likely to hunt (12%), while residents of the Pacific states (2%) and the New England (4%) and middle and south Atlantic states (5% each) were least likely. (See Figure 3.4.) Nearly all (95%) hunted within their resident state; only 2.1 million hunted out of state.


Anglers, by gender and age, 2001
source: "Anglers–by Gender and Age," in 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Commerce, 2002, http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/FHW01.pdf (accessed September 10, 2004)
Total, both sexes34.1million
Male25.2 million
Female8.9 million
Total, all ages34.1million
16 and 171.3 million
18 to 242.9 million
25 to 346.6 million
35 to 449.0 million
45 to 546.9 million
55 to 644.2 million
65 and older3.1 million

Animal rights advocates have sometimes tried to characterize hunters as wanton, unfeeling killers. Hunters and hunters' organizations have worked to counter this negative image by teaching ethics to hunters, actively promoting the contributions that hunters make to conservation, and defending hunting as a time-honored American tradition. The campaign to improve hunting's reputation coincided with state initiatives to restrict specific types of hunting, such as the baiting of bears in Michigan and Washington and airborne hunting of wolves in Alaska.


In 2001 more than thirty-four million U.S. residents enjoyed a variety of fishing activities throughout the United States. Collectively, anglers fished 557 million days and took 437 million fishing trips. Freshwater species were fished for by 84% of anglers, while saltwater fish were fished for by 26%. (There was some overlap because of those who fished for both.) Anglers spent $35.6 billion on fishing-related expenses during the year. Of that amount, 41% was trip-related, 48% went for equipment, and 11% was for other expenses.

Wildlife-Watching Activities

Wildlife-watching activities, including observing, feeding, and photographing wildlife, are popular in the United States. These activities were termed either "residential" (within a mile of one's home) or "nonresidential" (at least one mile from home) in the FWS survey. In 2001, 31% (66.1 million) of the American population sixteen years and older enjoyed watching wildlife. Each participant spent an average of $738 for a total of $38.4 billion. Of the total spent, 61% was for equipment, 21% was triprelated, and 17% went for other expenses.

Among the nearly sixty-three million people who enjoyed wildlife-watching activities in their own communities (residential), 82% fed birds, 64% observed wildlife,


Total hunters and hunting days, trips, and expenditures, 2001
Note: Detail does not add to total because of multiple responses and nonresponse
source: "Total Hunting," in 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Commerce, 2002, http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/FHW01.pdf (accessed September 10, 2004)
Hunters13.0 million
Big game10.9 million
Small game5.4 million
Migratory bird3.0 million
Other animals1.0 million
Days228 million
Big game153 million
Small game60 million
Migratory bird29 million
Other animals19 million
Trips200 million
Big game114 million
Small game46 million
Migratory bird24 million
Other animals15 million
Expenditures$20.6 billion
Big game10.1 billion
Small game1.8 billion
Migratory game1.4 billion
Other animals0.2 billion
Unspecified7.1 billion

21% photographed wildlife, and 17% visited public areas, such as parks, within one mile of their homes. Another 20% maintained plantings for wildlife or natural areas for the primary purpose of benefiting wildlife. Among those who took trips away from home for the primary purpose of observing, feeding, or photographing wildlife, 30% observed, 14% photographed, and 11% fed the animals. (See Table 3.7.)

Residents from the west north-central (41%), east south-central (34%), and New England (36%) states were most likely to enjoy local wildlife activities. Residents of the mountain (15%) and west north-central states (14%) were most likely to travel to participate in wildlife activities. Almost equal proportions of males and females enjoyed wildlife-watching activities.

Whale Watching

Whale watching grew dramatically as a form of wildlife watching recreation during the 1990s. The whales supported an industry pouring millions of dollars into many coastal economies, particularly those of New England, California, and Hawaii.

According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare study Whale Watching 2001, by Eric Hoyt, whale watching in the United States generated an estimated $158 million in direct spending and $357 million in total related expenditures in 1998, and there were more than 4.3 million U.S. whale watchers. In New England alone,


tourists spent more than $30 million in direct expenditures to visit whales in their natural environment. Humpback, fin, and minke whales could be seen there, along with the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale.

In California the gray whale, now removed from the endangered species list, was the star of the West Coast's whale-watching industry, and blue and humpback whales could be seen as well. Hawaii offered humpback, shortfinned pilot, and sperm whales. In addition to transporting ecotourists, commercial whale-watching vessels also served as forums for educational outreach and scientific research.

"Canned Hunting"

During the 1990s a controversial form of commercial exploitation of wildlife, known as "canned hunting," swept across the country. Beginning in Texas, by 2004 canned hunting occurred in most states in the United States. In a canned hunt, the "hunter" pays a set fee and steps into an enclosure where an animal—boar, ram, bear, lion, tiger, zebra, buffalo, rhinoceros, or antelope—is confined. The hunter then kills the animal with the weapon of his or her choice. The animals are easily cornered. Some have been domesticated or raised in facilities where they have become friendly to humans, even walking up to them.

In 2003 the Fund for Animals listed a total of 298 canned hunt operations around the United States that it had identified through advertising brochures, magazine ads, or Web sites, and estimated that there were many more it had not been able to discover. The states it found to have the most canned hunts were Texas, with sixty-two;

TABLE 3.10

Recreational boats in use, by boat type, 1997–2003
YearOutboard boats (millions)Inboard boats (millions)Sterndrive boats (millions)Personal watercraft (millions)Sailboats (millions)Other (millions)Total (millions)
source: "Table 1.3. Recreational Boats in Use by Boat Type 1997 to 2003," in 2003 Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract, National Marine Manufacturers Association, 2004, http://www.nmma.org/facts/boatingstats/2003/files/Abstract.pdf (accessed September 10, 2004)

Michigan, with twenty-four; Pennsylvania, with twenty-one; and Florida, with seventeen.

No federal laws restrict canned hunts, although in late 2001 Senator Joseph Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, introduced legislation that would make it illegal to "knowingly transfer, transport, or possess in interstate or foreign commerce a confined exotic mammal for the purposes of allowing the killing or injuring of that animal for entertainment" or for the collection of a "trophy," but it did not reach the Senate floor for a vote.

By 2004 Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming had banned canned hunts for all mammals, while Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin had banned canned hunts for many or most mammals, with certain exceptions permitted in each state.

Investigations have revealed that zoos across the nation have sold animals they consider surplus either directly to canned-hunt facilities or to dealers who sell animals to auctions patronized by canned-hunt organizers. Some pressure has been exerted on zoos to acknowledge their responsibility for the animals they discard.


Many Americans enjoy boating. The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) estimated in its 2003 Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract that in 2003 seventy-two million Americans participated in recreational boating and almost 17.5 million boats were in use. Close to thirteen million Americans were registered boaters in 2002, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Michigan (1,000,337), Florida (922,597), California (896,090), Minnesota (834,974), Texas (624,390), and Wisconsin (619,924) led in the number of registered boaters.

The NMMA estimated that in 2003, Americans owned about 8.4 million outboard motorboats, 1.8 million sterndrive boats, 1.7 million inboard motorboats, 1.6 million sailboats, 1.4 million personal watercraft, and approximately 2.5 million miscellaneous craft, such as canoes and rowboats. (See Table 3.10.) According to the NMMA, Americans spent about $30 billion on boating in 2003, up from $21.7 billion in 1998.


Motorcycling is not only a means of transportation but also a popular recreational activity. In 2002 the U.S. Department of Transportation reported that just under five million motorcycles were registered in the United States. The Motorcycle Industry Council reported that motorcycle sales increased 6.4% during 2003, to a total of approximately 996,000 cycles sold during the year.

The Motorcycle Owner—a Profile

In 1980 the average age of registered motorcyclists was twenty-six; by 1990, thirty-two; and by 2003, forty-four, according to research firm J.D. Power and Associates. Although men bought the vast majority of motorcycles, they are proving increasingly attractive to women as well. In 2003 more than one in ten new motorcycles were purchased by women, an increase of 30% from 1998. Of these, half were first-time buyers, compared with just one man in five who was buying his first bike.

In the early twenty-first century, the industry catered more to baby boomers with disposable incomes and a yen for adventure. Manufacturers introduced a line of bigger, safer, and more expensive machines with plenty of extras—wide-body, big-windshield cruising bikes—aimed at customers more interested in comfort than performing daredevil acrobatics.

By 2003 very expensive bikes were reviving the industry. The recovery of Harley-Davidson from the edge of bankruptcy was based on marketing to older, more affluent consumers looking for excitement in their lives. The median age of a Harley buyer in 2003 was approximately forty-seven, up from forty-four in 1999, and his median income was $80,000, up from less than $75,000 in 1999.


Recreational vehicles (RVs) include a variety of vehicles, such as motor homes, travel trailers, folding camping trailers, truck campers, and van conversions. Motor homes and vans are motorized, while the others must be towed or mounted on other vehicles. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), in 2003 there were approximately 7.2 million RVs in the United States—one for every twelve vehicle-owning households. There were an estimated thirty million RV enthusiasts, including renters of RVs.

RV owners cite freedom, flexibility, comfort, family appeal, affordability, and versatility as the reasons they choose to purchase RVs. Sports enthusiasts value the ability of bringing snowmobiles, motorcycles, and bicycles with them for their outdoor adventures. Fans of this type of vehicle claim that family vacations in a RV improve family relationships and communication.

According to a 2001 study conducted by the University of Michigan, RV ownership increased 7.8% between 1998 and 2001 and grew by 38% between 1980 and 2001. The RVIA reported that shipments of RVs in 2003 were worth $12 million at retail, up from $10 million in 2001. The average price of a folding camping trailer was $6,824; of a conventional towable travel trailer, $16,631; and of a full-size motor home, $143,834.

Some also chose to rent RVs from one of more than 460 rental outlets located around the United States. Rentals of motor homes, the model most commonly chosen, cost between $90 and $200 per day in 2003, according to the RVIA, while folding camping trailers and travel trailers cost between $28 and $85 per day. Rentals of RVs were popular and the rental category was growing, with the RVIA predicting it would increase by 34% during 2004.

RVs Go High Tech

RVs are being outfitted with increasingly sophisticated technology. According to the RVIA, popular electronic items found on RVs included flat-screen televisions, satellite dishes, video game systems, computers, surround-sound CD and DVD players with individual headphones, and global positioning systems. Many also came equipped with automatic leveling systems and closed-circuit television cameras to facilitate backing up the large vehicles, and "slideouts," moving walls that increase an RV's interior space once it is stopped by as much as three and one-half feet. More than 90% of fifth-wheel travel trailers and large motor homes contained slideouts, according to the RVIA.

Who Owns RVs?

The University of Michigan study described the typical RV owner as a forty-nine-year-old married man with an annual household income of $56,000. RV owners were likely to be homeowners, and they tended to spend their disposable income on travel, averaging 4,500 miles during twenty-eight to thirty-five days of travel per year. The highest number of RVs were owned by those age fifty-five and older, 10% of whom possessed one, according to the University of Michigan.

Shifting U.S. demographics—the aging of baby boomers—will likely add to the growth of the RV industry. Increasing numbers of single people, especially women, are also taking to the road in RVs. The University of Michigan study projected that eight million U.S. households would own an RV by 2010, an increase of 15%, outpacing the projected 10% growth in U.S. households.


Growing numbers of people have begun participating in high-risk recreational activities. Young adults dominate the thrill seekers, but older people are jumping in as well. Skydiving, hang gliding, rock climbing, mountaineering, bungee jumping, white-water rafting, and other extreme sports have all shown huge increases in participation.

The U.S. Parachute Association (USPA) reported that its membership had grown to more than thirty-four thousand in 2003 and that between 130,000 and 150,000 people went skydiving in a typical year. A USPA membership survey conducted in 2002 reported that 84.1% of member skydivers were men, half of whom were under the age of forty. Almost half of USPA members said they had jumped more than 250 times in their lives, with a third having jumped between twenty-six and 250 times. The ranks of parachutists came from a diverse group of occupations, but the most common field cited was the military (10.1%), followed by business management (9%), building trades (7.9%), the computer industry (7%), engineering (6.8%) and medicine (6.3%).

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association's (SGMA) Sports Participation Topline Report for 2004 reported that 2.2 million Americans participated in mountain or rock climbing during 2003. Participation had grown almost 4% from the year earlier. Rock-climbing gyms were also beginning to spring up around the country. Participation in artificial wall climbing grew by almost 84% from 1998 to 2003, to 8.6 million participants. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1.)

Another popular new extreme sport was paintball, in which participants staged mock battles with air-powered guns that shot paint-filled projectiles. According to the SGMA, total sales of paintball equipment increased by more than 5% between 2002 and 2003, to $390 million. (See Table 2.6 in Chapter 2.) The organization also found that in 2003, there were 9.8 million paintball players, up 13% from 2002 and a 66% increase since 1998. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1.)

Advocates of extreme sports continued to search for new challenges in the early twenty-first century. Skydiving had grown to include several new forms, including sky surfing, free flying, and aerial ballet, for those who thought simply jumping from fifteen thousand feet was too easy. Bungee jumping had also been expanded to include bridge, aerial, structure, and earth jumping.

One explanation for the rising popularity of extreme sports was the heightened awareness of them created by the media. Movies and advertising often featured mountain climbers or skydivers in dramatic, breathtaking scenes. In addition, many participants reported a life-affirming "adrenaline rush," and some experts suggested that extreme sports enthusiasts enjoyed the appearance of living on the edge.

Others believed that the improved safety of extreme sports as a result of technological advances and training had stimulated this growth. Equipment was well engineered to ensure that bungee cords and parachutes were highly unlikely to fail, and modern sports medicine could prepare participants with conditioning programs and exercises and assist them in recovering after mishaps.

Sports manufacturing industry experts predicted that the popularity of extreme sports would grow as young adults' earnings continued to rise. Furthermore, traditional obstacles to participation, such as gender and age, were rapidly disappearing because Americans remained physically active longer.


Theme and amusement parks, in general, saw a drop in attendance in the early twenty-first century. According to Amusement Business magazine, attendance at the nation's top fifty parks fell 1.6% in 2003, to almost 168 million people, following a slightly smaller decline in 2002. Factors cited for the drop included the depressed U.S. economy, the war on terrorism and in Iraq, and bad weather during the early part of the summer season.

Many adults may also be wearying of the very things that give young adults such a thrill: high-tech, action-packed adventure. In addition, theme parks are becoming increasingly expensive to attend. According to Amusement Business, the average price in 2004 for an adult admission to a park was $44.99, up by $1.59 from 2003. An online poll conducted by the same magazine in April of that year found that 84% of respondents believed amusement park prices were too high.

Several theme parks reported attendance increases between 2002 and 2003, including Walt Disney World's EPCOT in Florida, up 4%; Disney's California Adventure, up 13%; SeaWorld Florida, up 4%; and Cedar Point and Paramount's Kings Island, both in Ohio, up 3% each. Attendance at most amusement parks, however, declined during 2003, according to data compiled by Amusement Business.

Those experiencing drops included Disney MGM Studios in Florida, down 2% from 2002; Universal Studios Hollywood, down 12%; and Busch Gardens in Florida and Adventuredome at Circus Circus in Las Vegas, both down 4%. Knott's Berry Farm in California also experienced a 4% drop, and Morey's Piers in New Jersey had a 5% falloff.

Because children are generally accompanied by adults to theme parks, the parks have begun seeking novel ways to appeal to adult visitors. The parks of the future will likely anticipate the needs and preferences of their older customers. They may feature fewer thrill rides and place greater emphasis on serene, comfortable surroundings, such as fountains, seats, and garden settings.

Similarly, parks are expected to cater to families' preferences for wholesome pastimes rather than competitive or violence-oriented activities. Legoland, a Carlsbad, California, park that debuted in 1998, invites visitors to build structures with plastic blocks and appeals to families seeking lively, creative recreation.


Americans have long loved agricultural fairs that feature displays of prize-winning farm animals, crafts, vegetables, and baked goods, along with midways filled with rides and food vendors selling such treats as elephant ears and corn dogs. Traveling carnival operators that provide the midway attractions for such fairs also set up shop in temporary locations such as school or church parking lots to bring this quintessential form of American outdoor entertainment to those in urban areas.

The top five fairs in North America in 2003, according to Amusement Business, were the State Fair of Texas, with more than three million visitors; the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, with 1.7 million; the Minnesota State Fair, with 1.7 million; the Los Angeles County Fair, with 1.3 million; and the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, with 1.3 million.

Overall attendance at the top fifty fairs was more than 43.2 million, down slightly from the almost forty-four million counted in 2002 and very close to the figure reported for 2001. The 2003 decline was primarily attributed to new counting methods at several fairs, which saw large drops in reported attendance although revenue figures had stayed the same. Several fairs did record poor results because of weather and other circumstances, however, including the Canadian National Expositions in Toronto and Ottawa and the Michigan State Fair in Detroit, all of which were forced to cancel portions of their schedules because of a massive power outage that struck the eastern half of North America in August 2003.

The carnival operators that supplied the rides at the top fifty North American fairs reported a slight drop in business during 2003, with their total customers falling from 38.1 million to 37.4 million. The leading carnival operator, Conklin Shows, served 6.7 million customers at eight major fairs during 2003.


For some Americans, outdoor activities are as close as their own backyard. According to the National Gardening Association (NGA), in 2003 eighty-four million U.S. households (78%) had at least one gardener, up from seventy-two million in 1994. Gardening participation varied from year to year, based on home ownership rates, the number of sunny days during the growing season, and portrayals of gardening in the media.

A survey conducted by the NGA in 2001 found that flower gardening was more popular than vegetable gardening in the United States, with four out of ten households growing flowers, compared to three out of ten raising vegetables. Householders ages thirty-five to fifty-four (51%) were most likely to live in a flower-gardening household; middle-aged and older households were more likely to grow vegetables. On average, 31% of all households grew vegetables. The NGA predicted that the huge number of baby-boomer households entering the prime gardening ages would likely boost the overall number of flower-gardening households by 17% and vegetable-gardening households by 18.5% by 2010.

Surveyed gardeners reported that they gardened for the pleasure of being outdoors, the aesthetic pleasure gardening provided, the relaxation, and the exercise. In addition to providing pleasure as a recreational activity, gardening also offers an array of health benefits. It provides an ideal form of moderate exercise, and tilling the soil can help soothe jagged nerves, relieve stress, and reconnect people to the natural, seasonal rhythms of the earth.

The exercise benefits of gardening vary. Strenuous tasks such as mowing with a push mower, mixing compost into the soil, using heavy power tools, and chopping wood are as vigorous as tennis, jogging, and weight lifting. More sedate activities, such as watering the lawn, trimming shrubs with power tools, raking, or riding a power mower, burn fewer calories but still offer opportunities to bend, stretch, and strengthen joints.

For many older adults, gardening proves to be an enjoyable way to incorporate exercise and creativity into their lives. For others, it is therapeutic. Hospitals, assistedliving facilities, nursing homes, and adult day care, retirement, and recreation centers offered programs ranging from botany classes and garden clubs to horticultural therapy (gardening as a means of helping to heal illness and promote well-being).


According to the middle-series projections of the U.S. Census Bureau, the total population of the United States will increase 49% between 2000 and 2050. Most of the growth, however, was expected to be among the older ages and minorities, neither of which have had historically high rates of participation in active sports. A rapidly increasing share of young adults would be black, Hispanic, or Asian. In general, minorities have had less discretionary income than whites, especially older whites.

Despite these inhibiting factors, outdoor recreation activity was projected to grow over the next half-century, according to J. M. Bowker, Donald B. K. English, and H. Ken Cordell in their 1999 study Projections of Outdoor Recreation Participation to 2050. The five fastest growing activities as measured by number of participants were projected to be cross-country skiing (up 95%), downhill skiing (up 93%), visiting historic places (up 76%), sightseeing (up 71%), and biking (up 70%). The five slowest growing activities were projected to be rafting (up 26%), backpacking (up 26%), off-road vehicle driving (up 16%), primitive camping (up 10%), and hunting (projected to decline 11%).