In recent weeks, I have spent a lot of time reviewing national studies and industry research that details the popularity of a diverse range of popular outdoor recreation pursuits.
Among the various research studies and surveys conducted in recent years were several sponsored by the recreation industry, as well as others that were based solely on national and state park attendance figures.
Admittedly, the outdoor industry is biased in seeking to project numbers which indicate ever-increasing numbers of enthusiasts are involved in adventuresome pursuits, especially if their company happens to manufacture a popular outdoor tool such as a snowboard, canoe or a fishing rod.
After sifting through stacks of research studies and their respective companion reviews, I now have a much clearer view of current recreational trends.
Based on lifetime participation - ranging from ages 6 to 68 - it is clear that age plays a significant role on the type and frequency of the sports and activities people choose to participate in.
On average, participation in team sports, such as football, basketball or soccer typically peaks during childhood and begins to tail off after the age 12. Regular participation in active team sports diminishes over 70 percent upon completion of high school, and it continues to tail off on an average of two percentage points each following year.
However, it is during this same period that participation in fitness activities begins to grow, and does not peak until age 34. Participation in outdoor activities in general peaks around age 38, while participation in snow sports initially peaks around at age 16, before making another upward run around age 30.
The five most popular outdoor leisure activities in the United States, based on percentage of the U.S. population participating are: walking (82.3 percent), family gatherings (73.8), viewing natural scenery (59.5), visiting a nature center or trail (56.6) and picnicking (54.6).
It is important to note that gardening would rank as the most popular outdoor pursuit if it were considered a leisure activity.
According to one study, "For the most part, these types of activities probably owe their popularity to their relatively low cost, to the fact that they can be enjoyed with minimal physical exertion, and they do not require any special equipment or developed skills."
However, it is the active outdoor pursuits that are most important to the Adirondack economy. These are the activities that attract visitors and help to fuel the local economy. They also play a major role in attracting new residents to the region and improving the quality of life.
According to numerous studies, these are activities that help to define local culture and the U.S. society at large.
Primarily, they are activities that occur on land, trails or roads, rather than on water, snow or ice, and they constitute the largest categories of outdoor recreational participation in the country.
Based on a percentage of the U.S. population participating, the 10 most popular outdoor recreational activities are: 1. walking, 2. bicycling, 3. freshwater fishing, 4. tent camping, 5. jogging, 6. hiking, 7. hunting, 8. horseback riding, 9. birdwatching/viewing wildlife and 10. skiing (includes alpine, telemark, freestyle, snowboarding, cross-country and snowshoeing.
Bicycling remains the second most popular individual outdoor activity in America based on frequency of participation. In 2010, Americans ages 6 and older went on 2.44 billion bicycling outings, averaging 58 outings per bicyclist per year.
In regard to the proposed Great Adirondack Recreation Trail, it is interesting to note that the growth in bicycling in the U.S. during the past two decades occurred primarily among men between 25 and 64 years old. This is a very interesting demographic.
For the sake of North Country interests, I combined skiing and other snow sports, including snowshoeing, snowboarding and backcountry skiing to form a separate category for consideration.
The figures I used, based on percentage of the U.S. population, would place snow sports statistically dead even with horseback riding or wildlife watching for the top 10 spot.
A highlight of the ever-expanding growth of snow sports indicates alpine skiing grew 5.4 percent and snowboarding grew 10.4 percent from the 2008-09 to 2009-10 seasons. Of course, the continued growth of these activities depend largely on the weather.
From a marketing perspective, alpine skiers (44 percent) and snowboarders (31 percent) make up three quarters of all participants. Two-thirds of snowboarders are male, and 64 percent of snowboarders are between 13 and 34 years old and 66 percent of alpine skiers had incomes above $100,000. Such figures are a marketer's dream.
While hunting and fishing continue to be important elements of our national outdoor heritage and a component of our cultural identity, they are also are crucial to the small, rural communities of the Adirondack region that depend on seasonal activities such as hunting and fishing or skiing and rafting for their economic base.
Participation data indicates a 9 percent increase in hunters and an 11 percent increase in anglers over the past four years.
According to a recent survey by the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA), women's participation in hunting has increased by over 75 percent in just the last five years. Women now account for about 15 percent of the total shooting, hunting and firearms marketplace.
Participation in adventure sports continues to grow, and the Adirondacks continue to provide some of the finest man-made and wild venues available for these modern day adventurers.
Wilfred Noyce, a noted British mountaineer explained the attraction of traditional adventure pursuits, when he claimed, "If adventure has a final and all embracing motive, it is surely this: We go out because it is in our nature to go out, to climb mountains and to sail the seas, to fly to the planets and plunge into depths of the oceans.
"By doing these things we make touch with something outside or behind, which strangely seems to approve our doing them. We extend our horizon, we expand our being, we revel in the mastery of ourselves which gives an impression, mainly illusory, that we are masters of the world. In a word, we are men and when man ceases to do these things, he is no longer man."