When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted daily life two years ago, Americans took refuge outdoors. That year, 53 percent of people participated in outdoor recreation at least once, the highest participation rate ever. That success continues today, with an increase in outdoor recreation among increasingly diverse demographics, including women, young people and city dwellers.
The pandemic has highlighted the demand and need for outdoor recreation opportunities close to home. Unfortunately, this access is sorely lacking for far too many. We recognize that equity and inclusion are vital in every aspect of life, and that includes outdoor recreation, which is vital to mental and physical health and the growth of the local economy.
Across the country, the growth of outdoor participation has been enabled in large part by the availability and accessibility of outdoor spaces within 10 miles of people’s homes. All too often, however, this is not the case for many communities of color due to past and present cultural and geographic segregation. More than 100 million Americans live within walking distance of a park or green space. Additionally, underserved communities often lack the resources and funds to invest in outdoor spaces, making many people three times more likely to live in disadvantaged locations.
This lack of access to outdoor spaces is of particular concern as nature is not a convenience but a necessity for everyone’s health and well-being. Studies have found that disconnection from nature is detrimental to human development and can increase mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and stress. Depression diagnosed by doctors is 33 percent higher in residential areas with less green space.
Inadequate tree cover and few outdoor spaces make low-income communities more vulnerable to developing immune-compromising diseases like asthma — a risk factor for COVID-19. Without green space, harmful particles that remain in the air and cause pollution can increase the chance of dying from COVID-19 by 8 percent. Investing in green space and trees in every community across the country — regardless of zip code — would help keep people healthy and avoid an additional $4 billion in healthcare costs each year.
The outdoor industry — which contributes $689 billion to the national economy and supports more than 4 million jobs — is committed to ensuring everyone has the opportunity to enjoy open spaces in their own community by empowering public-private initiatives like the Bringing people closer to home supports infrastructure projects in communities that are traditionally underserved and lack many of the amenities that contribute to a better quality of life. These projects include accessible footpaths and cycle paths, “parking” underpasses, beautification of alleys, redesign of green spaces in industrial buildings.
Industry support also extends to advocating for federal and state legislative efforts such as: For example, the nonpartisan Outdoors for All Act, led by Senators Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, which would prioritize federal funding for inclusive outdoors recreation programs in long-serving communities and the improve health benefits and economic opportunities for people living in low-income and urban neighborhoods.
In addition, the Parks, Jobs and Equity Act, led by Representatives Nanette Diaz Barragán, D-Calif., Michael Turner, R-Ohio, and Joe Neguse, D-Colo., would invest in 1,000 new or upgraded parks and 1, Generating $37 billion in economic activity and making long-term investments in nature.
The outdoor industry and its partners are working with policymakers to focus on improving the protection and accessibility of natural areas near cities, particularly those with historical ties to naturally disadvantaged groups. By strengthening the voices and representation of our diverse communities, more people will be encouraged to participate in outdoor recreation. Together we can demand better access to nature for all and help more people get outdoors – because everyone deserves a breath of fresh air.