A recent question was posed over on the Outdoor Bloggers Summit - "How can we get everyone to play outdoors?" It's an issue that's very central to my life, my career, and my outdoor obsessions. Indeed, I actually make a living wage trying to figure out the answer to this question. So from what angle, exactly, should I tackle this question?
I've started - and stopped - writing the response to that question 5 times now. Each attempt devolves into a bitching and moaning session about the current state of things. Americans have enjoyed some of the most spectacular natural places on earth for over 100 years (in some cases, 400 years) at a very low cost. This low cost, which is still largely enjoyed and not appreciated in 2010, is partly a blessing of geography, and partly a legal knee-jerk protest of our feudal society heritage in Europe - where the rich own all of the land. Literally.
Let's start off with the bottom line - for decades, many of us have been very generous with our time and money to support the protection and restoration of wildlife habitat and wild places. Sadly, our greatest goals may not be achieved within our lifetimes. Things like the sustainable restoration of the elk population in the eastern Ohio River Valley, and the permanent protection of the prairie pothole region for migration ducks, geese, and shorebirds, and the preservation of classic American views (and access) at our beaches, mountains, deserts, and forests . It's high time for each of us to stop praying for a fix from our government agencies, our educational system, and our favorite non-profit organizations, and make the changes in our life that will engage the next generation of hunters, anglers, surfers, rock-climbers, mountaineers, etc.
Here are some things that I'm doing in my own life to ensure that there's another generation of Americans who love the outdoors. I won't be so bold as to suggest you should do the same - but here are some ideas:
1. Getting rid of gear I don't need. I don't mean throwing it away. I don't mean selling it on craigslist.org for 80% of its retail value. I mean - give it away to someone who doesn't have access to gear. I recently sold some fishing tackle on craigslist - I was willing to part with it for $100 to anybody - or free to anyone under the age of 18. If you absolutely want the tax write-off, see if a local watershed group, your state waterfowl organization, or somebody else would take it as a donation. You're not ever going to hunt over those cheap mallard decoys. Give them away to somebody who needs "somewhere to start."
2. Taking people outdoors with me. There's no need for me to fish, hunt, surf, or kayak alone. In all cases, I have enough gear for at least one other person. Go to your "basic spot." Conditions or harvests that are boring to you may make a life's memory for your guest....that bluegill, that merganser, or that horrible looking 18" tall wave. You might make somebody's year. More importantly - you might make them think, the next time they go into the voting booth, or when their child's school, church, temple, etc are looking for volunteers for their "outdoor trip."
3. Join - and become active in - my local watershed group. I have been meaning to do this for 3 years, and instead, I've done what all of us do....make excuses. My excuses are that "I work every day to save wetlands" and "my employer gives money to my watershed group." I think you'll agree that this attitude is not going to carry conservation and the American outdoors ethic into the late 21st century and beyond. I promise to become more active in 2010.
4. Take somebody else's kids outdoors too. When my boy is old enough to boat, fish, surf, and hunt; obviously I'll commit to making sure he gets out there....a lot. I've seen some good examples in hunters and anglers who I know, who make a point to take out their own kids, and at least one of their kid's friends. Kids love to hang out together and they love new experiences (sometimes, ha ha), so I'm looking forward to learning how to do this correctly over the next 10 years....should be interesting.These are all simple changes that don't cost much money. I think they'll work for me - and I hope you'll think of some similar efforts and changes that will help you help you leave a legacy to another generation that will love the outdoors as much as you have.