Being locked inside has shown us all how important being outdoors is for our bodies and our mental wellbeing. However, for our newest outdoor enthusiasts, many barriers to access still exist. Don’t be one of them.
While most outdoor enthusiasts consider nature to be accessible to anyone and mostly free of charge, many barriers to access persist, unequally impacting specific groups of people to access nature. In 2020, the It’s Great Out There Coalition and the European Outdoor Group jointly identified the specific barriers to participation in outdoor activity through a research project. Among the barriers identified we see “interest in other activities” and “lack of convenient access” at the top of the list followed by “lack of knowledge,” “perceived unsuitability for activities” and “cost.” Access – especially in the context of continuing urbanization – is a question of policy bringing nature closer to people’s doorsteps regardless of their area or financial status. Access is however not what this article is about. It is about the common root that all the other barriers identified share: they are heavily influenced by exposure, perception, and culture.
Many outdoor enthusiasts are first exposed to outdoor activity during their childhood, they pride themselves in being ultra-prepared and over-equipped with the latest gear and gadgets. They typically drive their cars to a nice outdoorsy location and head out from there, guided by an app on their smartphones or the area map. They seek challenge and solitude amidst the elements and fear overcrowding may impact this experience. This is of course an oversimplification and generalization, but it does paint a picture of the leading outdoor culture. Perhaps this narrow perception of outdoor culture also prevents people from accessing nature?
Of course, outdoor activity is much more than a niche of adventure seekers. In fact, Eurobarometer research from 2018 shows that 40% of all Europeans prefer parks and the outdoors to be active. The Coalition participation research from 2020 indicated on top of that that walking and running are the most popular outdoor activities. This doesn’t mean however that people involved are considering themselves to be outdoor enthusiasts. So why do we establish outdoor culture as a separate niche? Why aren’t we embracing everyone that appreciates the outdoors equally? How can we all help to take away the barriers to outdoor activity?
Every outdoor enthusiast has a role to play to change perceptions and to make outdoor culture more welcoming to newcomers. We can provide help and support instead of passing judgment and we can share our knowledge for the benefit of newcomers. We can also help mitigate the costs involved by giving our own gear a second life and by helping to make some natural spaces more accessible without professional guides. This doesn’t mean we will be overcrowding wild places but will mean that we focus on better management of accessible spaces to the benefit of all and not just to the benefit of our outdoor niche. In return, this will help us to protect the natural environment, as people who participate in outdoor activity are known to be more inclined to protect it.
The It’s Great Out There Coalition has been striving to lower the barriers that prevent people from being active in nature since 2017. Let’s work together to get Europe Active Outdoors with the industry and beyond.
Photo: Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash