[cdt-l] Mountain bikes --> Backpacking stats

Paul Magnanti pmags at yahoo.com
Wed Jul 18 09:05:32 CDT 2007

As others have said, FRONT COUNTRY use is definitely up. But look at backcountry use (that includes multiday camping as well).  Be it statistics from reserved sites in the backcounty, thru-hiking numbers or backcountry permits it has dropped off.

Jim said something germane to this discussion:
"In our wanderings this year, we've seen massive capital 
improvements to the Park system.  Not necessarily in the back country, but 
certainly in the front country - where the vast majority of Park visitors 
are found. "

Here's a post of mine that on PCT-L that touches upon this discussion:

A little of everything, I think. (On backcountry use declining)

Backpacking as a whole has declined. Sure that effects thru-hiking as well.

Interesting post from PCT-L by Andew Skurka:
http://mailman.backcountry.net/pipermail/pct-l/2006-May/031996.html  (link is no longer active)

Without quoting the whole post, you can read the raw stats at:

(Page seems to have been moved, I found it by searching..I'm too lazy to look it up again. :D )

And to quote the nice summary by Skurka:

"A quick summary...

- They've been tracking backpacking statistics only since 1998, so
unfortunately a comparison to backpacking's "hay day" in the 1960's and
1970's is not possible.

- But it's still interesting to see what's happened in the last 7 years.
The number of "participants" (i.e. "recreational backpackers"; see the
report for the technical definition) has dropped to 6 percent of the US
population that's 16+ years of age, from 7.8 percent in 1998 (a total of 3.1
million people, ***and a 23 percent drop total***)

- The number of "enthusiasts" (i.e. "hard core") has experienced a similar
decline, dropping to .8 percent of the total 16+ population, from 1 percent
in 1998 (.3 million people total, ****or about 20 percent***).  It should be
noted that backpacking was the *only* outdoor activity that has experienced
a decline in participation rates among enthusiasts.

One of the big conclusions that came out of this report (and that was the
buzzword at the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow a year or two ago) was Americans'
growing preference for "done-in-a-day" activities.  It's interesting to see,
for example, that while backpacking has seen a 23 percent drop in
participation, *hiking* has experienced a decrease just 1 percent among
participants and a 21 percent increase among enthusiasts.  The
fastest-growing activities included: Canoeing (+16.3%), Kayaking (+130%),
Snowshoeing (+50.0%), Telemark skiing (+166.7%), and Trail Running (+20.3%).
See the pattern here?  It's the "Outdoor Experience LITE.""

Paul Mags again:

Basically, front country use is up. Backcountry use is down.

Suspect thru-hiking will continue to decline as well. Backcountry
use (which, for most people translates to backpacking) ain't "sexy". It
doesn't sell schwag, it means grunge, it ain't fun for most people.
Without getting into arguments about a certain backpacking magazine, it is
why the backpacking magazines are shifting the focus from straight-up
backpacking to more front-country use type articles. When you see articles
in a backpacking magazine about day hikes, canoeing and mountain biking, you have 
to wonder. :)

The largest boom in backpacking was in the 1970s with the Baby Boomers.
Gen X and now Gen Y enjoy the more "mountain dew" type activities. And
there are more activities to choose from. It is not a worse or better
way of enjoying the outdoors..but different.

The end result? In years to come, see an emphasis placed more on front country access and less on backcountry
in National Park, BLM and USFS lands. It is happening already. Trail
maintenance is down, parking lot building and other "improvements" are
up, retailers are shifting their gear selection from backpacking gear
to more front country type gear.

And for thru-hikers? Less of us, I think. Good in the short term..but
what happens 20 years from now when less people are using the backcountry wilderness? Less protection? 
The trails open to mountain bikers and (gasp!) ATVs?  

I seriously don't know. But, I do know that how the outdoors are shared and use will be much different 
twenty years from now.

As Jim Owen has noted, lots of visitor centers being built, road construction, etc. in national parks.

We are in the midst of a sea change in how the backcountry is being used.

I do not like this US vs. THEM mentality. Very few people are just hikers or mountain bikers etc.

We need to work together for a common goal: Our love of the outdoors. There are not many non-motorized users relatively speaking. If we squabble amongst
ourselves..we  all lose.

Again, just my opinion. And we all know that expression about opinions. :D


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