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Just How Popular is the Great Outdoors and What's Driving It?

Lots of folks have written about how popular exploring the outdoors has become and lots of companies have been taking advantage of it. Lots of social media folks and YouTubers too, (yours truly included, check out Amputee Outdoors on YouTube).

But just how popular? And what's driving it? I've done some research and was able to track down the number of National Park visits dating back to 1904. To make it easier to understand, I've put it all into this graph.

  • That first little climb between 1932 and 1936 is when personally owned cars started becoming more available to the public purchasing limits.

  • There was a dip during WWII.

  • In 2002 a severe dip which I think was a collateral effect from September 11th, 2001.

  • The sudden drop-off in 2020 is the result of COVID-19.

  • Look at that sudden climb in 2012 and the fast recovery post-2020. What's going on there?

I think there are four upward driving factors starting in 2012:

  • The popularity of social media: Social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok have become increasingly influential sources of information and inspiration for travelers, especially younger generations. Many people use social media to share their photos and videos of their trips, as well as to find and follow other travelers who post about their adventures. Social media can also create viral trends and challenges that motivate people to visit certain places or do certain activities. For example, the #FindYourPark and #RecreateResponsibly hashtags have been widely used by park visitors and advocates to promote and celebrate national parks.

  • The centennial of the National Park Service: In 2016, the National Park Service celebrated its 100th anniversary, which generated a lot of publicity and interest in national parks. The agency launched the Find Your Park campaign, which encouraged people to discover and explore the diverse and unique parks across the country. The campaign also featured celebrities, influencers, and partners who shared their stories and experiences in national parks. As a result, national park visitation reached a record high of 331 million in 2016.

  • The diversity and accessibility of parks: The United States has a rich and varied network of national and state parks that offer something for everyone. Whether people are looking for history, culture, wildlife, scenery, or adventure, they can find a park that suits their interests and preferences. Moreover, many parks are accessible and affordable, with low or no entrance fees, free or discounted passes, and various amenities and facilities. Some parks also have special programs and events that cater to different groups and communities, such as veterans, seniors, students, and families.

  • The awareness and appreciation of nature: More people are becoming aware and concerned about the environmental and social issues that affect the planet, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and social justice. They are also becoming more appreciative of the benefits and values of nature, such as health, well-being, and happiness. These factors can inspire and motivate people to visit national and state parks, where they can learn about and enjoy nature, as well as support conservation and stewardship efforts.

More people enjoying the health (mental and physical) benefits of the outdoors and learning to appreciate the glorious beauty and value of our nation's natural landscapes is a good thing. To a point. In a follow-up article, I'll examine the downsides of so many folks experiencing the great outdoors.

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