By Conrad Kabbaz, Policy Intern
“Beauty is not an easy thing to measure. It does not show up in the gross national product, in a weekly paycheck, or in profit and loss statements. But these things are not ends in themselves. They are a road to satisfaction and pleasure and the good life. Beauty makes its own direct contribution to these final ends. Therefore it is one of the most important components of our true national income, not to be left out simply because statisticians cannot calculate its worth.”
It’s been 50 years since Lyndon Johnson’s iconic 1965 “Conservation and Preservation of Natural Beauty” speech, in which the president stressed the need to restore, protect, and preserve America’s picturesque natural spaces and outdoor recreation areas. This June is Great Outdoors Month, a time when Americans are encouraged to heed the president’s call and enjoy what the outdoors has to offer.
The American Hiking Society (AHS) recently released a report, Hiking Trails in America: Pathways to Prosperity, on the current state of our nation’s trails, illustrating the need to foster greater diversity in the hiking community. In 2012, 60 percent of whites ages 25 to 44 participated in outdoor recreation activities, as opposed to less than half of all African-Americans. This seems puzzling at first because of the low cost and inherent inclusiveness of outdoor recreation. However, with a large proportion of minority populations in urban areas coupled with the bulk of trails being in remote locations far from cities, demographic disparities are likely due to inaccessibility rather than disinterest.
Youth engagement is another key component of expanding diversity in outdoor recreation. Between modern technology and industrialized cities, many children are deprived of natural spaces to enjoy. Reverence for our forests and the many ways to enjoy them is best acquired through personal experience.
American Forests and many other groups are working to improve accessibility and engagement in these areas.
One of our latest projects, “Building Public Awareness of the Values of Sustainable Forests” is a USDA-backed initiative to expand public awareness of the benefits of urban forests. We support President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to promote youth involvement in forest conservation and are also a member of the Outdoor Alliance for Kids (OAK), which creates numerous opportunities for outdoor education, linking classroom curricula to hands-on activities. We are a proud member of the Sustainable Urban Forest Coalition as well, which advocates for urban forests in our cities.
As we continue through the Great Outdoors Month, remember to try and experience the outdoors yourself! You can always look to your nearest park for endless recreation opportunities, such as hiking, fishing, and mountain biking. Enjoying the great outdoors may be as simple as walking to work, taking in the natural beauty that surrounds you as you stroll.