Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New Study: Who Uses The Forest Preserve?

Have you gone hiking recently in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness or canoed the Kunjamuk River? I’ve never met you, but I can guess a lot of things about you.

You probably live within fifty miles of the trailhead or put-in. You probably have a college degree. And you’re probably white.

These are statistical probabilities based on a survey of Forest Preserve users in the southeastern Adirondacks. For a year, researchers from the New York State College of Environmental Science and Forestry staked out trailheads and put-ins and interviewed more than a thousand people.

You can find an article about the study in the March/April issue of the Adirondack Explorer, but here are some of the highlights:

• 76% of the people drove less than fifty miles to get to their destination.
• 44% said hiking was the primary purpose of their outing.
• 67% held at least a two-year college degree (26% had a postgraduate degree).
• 66% were male.
• 26% were under thirty.
• 18% were between thirty and forty.
• 56% were forty or older.
• 90% were white (less than 1% identified themselves as African-American).

In a follow-up survey, nearly five hundred of the interviewees were asked to rate in importance various reasons for visiting the Forest Preserve. Following are the top five responses:

1. Experience natural environment and scenic beauty.
2. Experience an environment free of litter and human waste and impacts.
3. Enjoy physical activity, challenge, and exercise.
4. Feeling a connection with nature and a natural environment.
5. Experience a remote area away from sight and sound of cities and people.

The survey does not draw any grand conclusions from the data, but Chad Dawson, professor emeritus at ESF, said the results cannot be extrapolated to other regions of the Park. For example, the High Peaks region draws more visitors from distant cities and other states. ESF hopes to finish surveys of the Park’s other three quadrants within a year.

One finding, though, does apply to the rest of the Forest Preserve. Most of the people who enjoy it are white, and given changes in the ethnic makeup of the population, this raises questions about public support of the Preserve in years to come.

“The future of the Forest Preserve and the Adirondack Park itself rests on the support of the people of New York State,” the survey notes. “It is imperative that a wide diversity of New York State citizens learn to know and love the Adirondack Park and its Forest Preserve lands, for as Freeman Tilden (1957) has often said: We protect only what we know and love.”

What are your thoughts about this survey? Are you surprised by any of the findings? Does it tell us anything we need to take into account in managing or promoting the Park?

Photo of the Kunjamuk River by Phil Brown.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

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