Outdoorsy Folks Save the World Pt. 1: Redefining Outdoor Recreation
This post is part one of a two-part series on unifying the outdoor community against those in office who wish to take public lands out of public hands and pass legislation that may be harmful to the outdoors and those who love it most.
Part 1 will focus on how we, as an outdoors loving community, can better unify ourselves to be one loud, clear voice that is very easy for our government to hear. Part 2 will focus on specific legislation that threatens outdoor spaces and what we as a large, unified front can do about it.
I struggled for a long time with how to write this post, mostly because there’s just so much to say about the topic of the outdoors community. In a lot of ways, this community is very fraternal and accepting, but in a lot of very concerning ways, it isn’t. This could easily become a post about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors. It could easily become a post about specific legislation that is being proposed to sell off millions of acres of public lands. It could easily be a post about how the outdoor recreation industry is selling an idealized version of the outdoor experience that is damn near impossible to obtain. And really, I don’t want this post to be about just one of those things, because I think, in some obvious and some not so obvious ways, those issues are all connected.
So if I were going to have an upshot, or a single thread that ties all of these other issues together in this post and the next one it’s this: our planet desperately needs our help and, in my mind, people who love to enjoy the outdoors seem like the most likely candidates to save our world. The problem is, the “outdoor community” isn’t as united as it could be because of the issues I mentioned earlier – and our planet is suffering because of it.
Think of how many people love to be outside – how many thousands of Instagram accounts there are celebrating the beauty of outdoor spaces (a lot of times, these spaces are public lands). Think about all of the bloggers out there just like me who are inspired by the outdoors. Think about the camping trips that shaped your childhood memories or the first National Park you ever visited. Think about the summer you spent outside, refusing to come in until the street lights came on. Think about the parks, the evening walks with your dog, the scenic overlooks you stopped at when you were too tired to keep driving. I think of all of these things when I think about why I love the outdoors and why I believe the term “outdoor recreation” should be broader than what some outdoor retailers would have us to believe. If we actually found a way to unify all of the people who love the outdoors, we’d be a group with a lot of say in the laws being passed regarding outdoor spaces.
So what’s the problem? It stems from the fact that a very narrow and extreme definition of “outdoor recreation” is being perpetuated by the outdoor industry which doesn’t match what the real (very open) definition of outdoor recreation is.
Contrary to what popular Instagram accounts would have you believe, outdoor recreation doesn’t mean mountain biking. It doesn’t mean thru hiking the PCT. It doesn’t mean free climbing in Yosemite Valley. It doesn’t mean #vanlife. It doesn’t mean National Parks. It doesn’t mean backpacking through slot canyons or surfing huge swells.
Outdoor recreation doesn’t mean spending money and it doesn’t mean traveling to the farthest corners of the world.
At least, not exclusively.
In fact, the definition of the word “recreation” is quite broad. And if recreation is defined simply as “any activity done for enjoyment,” then it stands to reason that “outdoor recreation” simply means doing stuff for fun outside.
Notice how “shred the gnar” is nowhere to be found in this definition.
This is kind of like a square/rectangle situation. “Shredding the gnar” and all of the other more extreme activities mentioned above are outdoor recreational activities. But the broad, blanket term of outdoor recreation is not any one of or group of those extreme activities alone.
Someone who takes their dog for a walk around their neighborhood park to unwind after work is just as much an outdoorsman as someone who has hiked the Appalachian Trail. A family who picnics at the beach is enjoying that space just as much as someone who is kayaking off shore. In my opinion, the more people outside the better. Being outside is a lot more fun when you don’t feel like you have to do some epic, highlight reel type shit because when it comes down to it, you’re still doing stuff for fun outside.
You are engaging in outdoor recreation. Your voice matters in this conversation.
If we as lovers of the outdoors can begin to recognize everyone who enjoys the outdoors in whatever way they choose to do so and include everyone in this discussion, our community grows exponentially. And when our community grows, our voice gets much louder and our influence gets much stronger. What can we do with that power? Save our public lands, fight for renewable energy, and advocate for the stewardship of nature – basically, save the world so we and our children’s’ children’s’ children can keep enjoying it. And that’s the whole point, right?
So if there’s one thing I want to convey in this post it’s this: I’ve been discouraged by the stuff I see on Instagram. I sometimes still feel inadequate when I see people posting pictures they took with amazing, expensive cameras in beautiful locations. I lust after places that I can’t travel to at the moment because I have a day job and a tight budget. I’ve believed the lie that has been perpetuated by the outdoor industry that I am less than some outdoorsmen/women because I don’t have the sweetest gear or participate in the raddest extreme sports. And I don’t want to feel that way anymore nor do I want anyone else who loves the outdoors to feel that way.
There is enough divisiveness in the current political climate as it is, so the point of this post is to encourage the outdoor community as a whole to come together to stand up for our public lands and become advocates for stewardship of our planet regardless of how we enjoy the outdoors. We’d be a hard group to ignore.
I’ll be posting part 2 later this week and, in part 2, I’ll get into the specifics of why we need to come together as a community and what we can do to solve some of the problems that are threatening the places we cherish.
Until then, I’ll leave you with a probably cliché but super appropriate quote by Theodore Roosevelt (a dude who knew a thing or two about preserving public land for future generations). “Comparison is the thief of joy.” At the end of the day, you don’t need to climb a mountain or have a perfect Instagram gallery in order to be a “real outdoorsman.” If you like doing fun stuff outside, even if that’s drinking beer on the beach, then this post and this fight is for you too. Let’s save the world together.
Check back in with me for Part 2 for information on current bills threatening outdoor spaces and what we can do about it.