“Nearly half of all Americans didn’t go outside last year” read the headline.
I spat my drink on my cellphone’s screen and declared “Fake news!”
And then I looked around and saw I had the little bay off to the right of Monument Point all to myself. It was 50 degrees on a Saturday afternoon with a bluebird sky and only a light breeze and I was sitting on top of 7 inches of clear ice. So clear, in fact, I could look down the hole and watch the rainbows scoff at my mealworm-tipped jig.
I looked around again and noticed my holes were the only holes in the little bay. To be sure, there were other people at Lake DeSmet that day; but not nearly as many as I would’ve thought for such a gorgeous day. Maybe Smettie got them?
Since there weren’t any trout coming in, I decided I’d read past the headline to see if it was not so much “fake news” after all.
The headline came courtesy of the 2019 Outdoor Participation Report, the annual survey commissioned by Outdoor Foundation, the charitable arm of the Outdoor Industry Association. Think Big Outdoors, but for tents and base layers and The Bumper Dumper®, which lets you do your doo from the comfort of your trailer hitch.
Anyway, the survey’s executive summary highlighted doomsdayer stats like “Americans went on one billion fewer outdoor outings in 2018 than they did just ten years earlier,” and “Only 17.9% of the total population recreated outside at least once a week.” Suffice to say, I wasn’t the only one with a glass half empty.
When you’re working to create new opportunities for more people to enjoy the beauty of the Bighorns or to go from their front doors to the outdoors easier than ever before, stats like that are a call to action.
Resolved not to let a crisis go to waste, I downloaded the report to see if there was a silver lining somewhere.
Indeed, it was on page two — just past the headlines.
As it turns out, nearly 152 million Americans participated in at least one outdoor recreation activity in 2018 — based on the data quite likely more Americans than ever before! And, more Americans have participated each year since 2014. Oh, and more and more women continue to #OptOutside — with another jump of 3.2% in 2018.
Sadly, Americans aren’t getting outdoors as often. That figure has dropped by 6.5% over the past three years. And even those folks who are considered active outdoors folks took, on average, 7.4 fewer outings.
Also of note, the average age of outdoor participants was 36 while participants averaged nearly 22 years of outdoor recreation experience. What does that mean? Ya gotta hook ‘em while they’re young!
How do you do that? Well, create opportunities close to home, as participants under the age of 18 preferred recreating within a mile of their home. That’s not uncommon for folks of all ages, as nearly two-thirds of all outdoor participants recreated within 10 miles of home.
Thankfully, Sheridan County has a ton of opportunities to do exactly that.
The Sheridan Community Land Trust maintains Soldier Ridge and Hidden Hoot Trails, a network of seven miles of non-motorized, shared-use trails right on the west edge of town and conveniently connected to the city of Sheridan’s pathway network. Slice and Kicking Horse Trails will be added this spring and summer. Beyond town, Red Grade Trails are situated at the base of the Bighorns, with six miles currently built and the first of up to 22 new miles will be added this summer after Kicking Horse is complete. We also connect families and children to the outdoors through Unplug, a free summer series we operate with Science Kids. Its 2020 schedule will be released soon.
Those are opportunities SCLT is proud to have created and are thrilled around 20,000 visitors enjoyed those trails in 2019.
But SCLT isn’t alone in helping create a culture of outdoor fun.
As you’re reading this, you can head up to Antelope Butte Mountain Recreation Area for their Community Nordic Day. Can’t make it? Head up any other day this winter and revel in our community ski hill reopening after so many years.
Tonight, Feb. 8, you can go on a moonlight ski from 6-9 p.m. at Sibley Lake with the Black Mountain Nordic Club, a group of volunteers who groom 50 miles of ski, snowshoe and fatbike trail in the Bighorn National Forest.
The Sheridan WYO Winter Rodeo kicks off with Nordic and fatbike races on Feb. 15 and skijoring Feb. 22 and 23.
Wyoming Wilderness Association sponsors high school outdoor clubs, public hikes and backpack trips, senior outings with The Hub and summer youth excursions all free of charge. They’re also accepting donations of outdoor gear.
Bomber Mountain Cycling Club organizes rides throughout the year.
Sheridan Recreation District offers many outdoor recreation opportunities year-round.
And Angling Destinations and Fly Shop of the Bighorns are bringing the 2020 Fly Fishing Film Tour to the WYO on Feb. 29. It may not get you outdoors, but it will get you out of the house.
Of course, these opportunities wouldn’t be available without the U.S. Forest Service, Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investment, Bureau of Land Management, Sheridan County, our local communities and private land owners who generously allow people to access the special places they call home and a growing group of donors who help make projects like Red Grade Trails and the Soldier Ridge Trail System possible.
That’s not fake news, that’s great news — and it’s seeing the outdoor recreation glass more than half full.
And, on Sunday, Feb. 16, join us for a Family Sled at Trail End State Historic site from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Bring your sleds for a fun day next to the Kendrick Mansion. We’ll have complimentary coffee and hot cocoa, so let SCLT fill your glass all the way up. We’ll even give you cookies, too!
Chris Vrba is director of marketing and development for Sheridan Community Land Trust.