Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

July 2021

2021 Report Shows Record Outdoor Participation

The Outdoor Foundation recently released exclusive insights about Americans' engagement in outdoor activities in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As detailed throughout the report, COVID-19 inspired huge participation growth, as outdoor spaces became places of refuge to safely socialize, improve physical and mental health, connect with family and recover from screen fatigue.

In 2020, 53% of Americans ages 6 and older participated in outdoor recreation at least once, the highest participation rate on record. Remarkably, 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2020 than in the year prior. These one-year gains, however, did not fundamentally alter the long-term challenges faced by the outdoor industry. The outdoor industry and its partners are positioned to champion new ways to engage outdoor participants and invest in making the outdoors accessible and welcoming to all Americans.

"Earlier this year we saw promising research about new participants in the outdoors with more people finding solace in outdoor activities, especially amid the pandemic," said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association. "Our broader research shows us that while we are seeing millions more people getting outside this year, we must take action to help them establish a lifelong relationship with the outdoors, otherwise we will continue to see an overall decline in participation rates in the next year with people returning to an indoor routine."

Additional key findings and challenges include:

  • About one-quarter of new participants say they don't want to continue their new outdoor activities, a number that may grow sharply as consumers return to pre-pandemic habits.
  • Nearly 75% of outdoor participants were white. Participation rates decline 7% annually among Asian-Americans for the past three years, stagnated for the past three years among blacks, and grew among Hispanics, but remained well below whites.
  • There were fewer of the most devoted outdoor participants and more casual ones. A decade ago, 24% reported participating more than twice a week, while in 2020, just 20% did. The same pattern occurred among children, young adults and adults.
  • The average number of outings per participant continued a steady, long-term decline, falling from 87 in 2012 to 71 in 2020.
  • Although there are significant industry efforts to address gender disparities, for the past eight years females have represented just 46% of outdoor participants, even though 51% of Americans are female.

"Although the long-term trends remain discouraging, there exists an incredible opportunity for all of us within the outdoor industry to welcome more participants," said Stephanie Maez, managing director at the Outdoor Foundation. "Collective action through philanthropy, programming, marketing and policy can move the needle. Together, we can help bring individuals and entire communities outside, and inspire them to build lifelong relationships with the outdoors."

The Outdoor Foundation has developed the Outdoor Participation Trends Report for 14 years. This annual report examines demographics of the outdoor participant. The survey reflects data gathered during the 2020 calendar year and garnered 20,069 online interviews with people ages 6 and older. Visit for more information.

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