People from all over the world enjoy the outdoors in a multitude of ways, from hiking, to skiing, to mountain biking. People participate in these activities for many reasons. One common motive includes wanting to enjoy healthy natural spaces. But in the pursuit of this enjoyment, a question arises; is recreationists’ love for the environment destroying the environment that they love?
Undoubtedly, spending time in nature fosters a love for the environment, which, according to a study by Pennsylvania State University, often translates into an increase of environmentally conscious actions. Nature camps, environmental education efforts, and general time spent outside allow people to experience the benefits and beauty of nature and push them to consider their own environmental impacts. However, the question remains whether these benefits counterbalance the environmental harms caused by outdoor recreation.
While they exist on a sliding scale, all forms of recreation have some level of impact on the environment. The ever-popular sport of downhill skiing is often vilified as one of the most harmful recreational activities for the environment. Research has shown that skiing and ski resorts contribute to the devastation of native flora and fauna and add to water pollution. Yet, as demonstrated by a study conducted in Australia, even the least intrusive recreational activities— hiking and camping—often lead to soil loss and water pollution which degrades ecosystems. There is no escaping the fact that widespread recreation will have negative effects on the environment.
In recent decades, the popularity of outdoor recreation and environmental tourism have greatly increased and governments, institutions, and universities have been quick to catch on. All of these groups have been keen to capitalize on the popularity of recreation. However, without the proper education and management, the environment can suffer major losses.
This is where governments, businesses, and others looking to support outdoor recreation have a crucial role to play. There is a huge potential for these groups to manage recreation carefully and to promote environmental conscientiousness.
Some groups have already begun to take steps in this direction. Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont, for instance, has been buying renewable energy for their three popular ski areas in order to lessen their environmental impact. The New Zealand government is also a good example of an institution working to educate people about the impacts of outdoor recreation. At the majority of parks, public beaches, and other areas of outdoor recreation in New Zealand, the government has placed signs providing information on the native flora and fauna and the risks that people pose to them.
These efforts are an important starting place for recreational promoters to balance the harms of recreation. However, it is also crucial that individuals recognize their personal role in environmental degradation. Often, outdoor enthusiasts are blind to their own impact on the environment; if everyone wants to continue enjoying the outdoors, each person must take responsibility for their own actions. This is not to say that recreation should be stopped, simply that it has a larger impact on the environment than many are conscious of and that lack of knowledge is something that needs to change.