By Michael A. Schuett, Scott Shafer and Jiaying Lu
Outdoor recreation is a popular pastime in Texas. With its wide open spaces and varied terrain, Texas has some of the best outdoor recreation activities in the country. Texas is also the second most populated state in the nation, with 23 million people, and the population is growing and becoming more diverse (U.S. Census, 2008). This population growth increases the competition for our outdoor recreation resources. It is important to be aware of baseline data in outdoor recreation, nationally and at home, so planners and resource managers can better understand both existing demand and probable future trends.
Data in this publication are taken from the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment (NSRE) conducted by the U.S. Forest Service. The purpose of the NSRE study is to describe participation by Americans in outdoor recreation activities. The study examines recreation participation, youth participation in outdoor activities, national forest and wilderness values, public land management, environmental opinions and attitudes, and socio-demographic information. To collect the data, researchers randomly contact people by phone. Those who are at least 16 years old are asked to take part in a phone survey. Respondents are asked if they have participated in an outdoor activity in the last 12 months. NSRE data are used by U.S. Forest Service personnel, state planners, academics, the outdoor recreation industry, advocacy groups and others.
Table 1 shows data collected during two periods of time, 2000–2001 and 2005–2008. Walking for pleasure (83.7 percent), family gathering (71.4 percent), and viewing/photographing natural scenery (63 percent) were the top outdoor activities for Americans during both time periods. The most dramatic increases were in activities related to wildlife watching. Participation in driving for pleasure, sightseeing, and picnicking appears to be on the decline. Family gatherings and visiting nature centers have also experienced slight declines in the last few years. This trend may become even more pronounced as energy prices remain high and pleasure drives become costlier.
Table 2 shows the same data for Texas residents from 2000–2001 and 2005–2008. Clearly, outdoor recreation is popular statewide. Participation in most outdoor activities has increased, especially for sightseeing (+ 8.9 percent) and viewing/photographing wildflowers, trees, etc. (+ 8.9 percent). However, participation in picnicking (-9.9 percent), family gatherings (-2.2 percent), and visiting historic sites (-1.4 percent) declined. Despite the changes in participation rates, the activity ranking was fairly consistent for the two time periods.
There are many similarities between the latest national data and that of Texas (Table 3). There are also several differences; for instance, yard games (such as horseshoes), sightseeing, and viewing/photographing wildlife are more popular in Texas than in the U.S as a whole. On the other hand, Texans tend to be less active in visiting nature centers, visiting/photographing natural scenery, family gatherings, and gardening/landscaping. Overall, Texans are actively engaged in using the state’s natural resources for recreation.
Although the NSRE data do not include specific reasons for increases or decreases in various outdoor activities, either nationally or in Texas, the information can be used to further analyze outdoor recreation market share, which helps better explain consumer behavior. The ability to monitor trends over time helps all segments of the industry, from programming activities to equipment sales. For example, Texas Parks and Wildlife managers can use the participation data to help them develop public recreation opportunities in the future, such as increasing the number of trails. In the private sector, nature tourism operators can use the data to help them capture market share for wildlife watching and other specific activities on their land. Nonprofit group or advocacy organizations may use the information to help shape policy decisions about recreation opportunities.
From a research perspective, it is important to know if and how managers are using secondary data in their planning efforts. Secondary data is usually cheaper and can be much easier to access and analyze than primary data. On the other hand, secondary data have some limitations because the questionnaire items are already chosen and may lack the specificity needed. Future investigation should scrutinize the use and value of secondary data in the field of parks and recreation. Those who might produce or use these studies need to know more about their level of effectiveness and even how they might be combined with other datasets such as the U.S. census. Managers and researchers interested in using secondary data are encouraged to contact key individuals at outdoor recreation companies, agencies or organizations to ask targeted questions about the research procedures used.
Download a printer-friendly version of this publication: Outdoor Recreation Participation Trends in Texas
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