Factors Differentiating Water-Based Wildland Recreationists from Nonparticipants: Implications for Recreation Activity Instruction


  • Robert D. Bixler
  • Beverly Morris


An exploratory study was conducted comparing life experiences of participants and nonparticipants in canoeing and kayaking. The study sought to identif)r distinctions between the two groups beyond the obvious difference that participants know activity-specific skills. This information was sought by a park district in order to critically examine programming strategies designed to introduce youth to wildland recreation activities. Park staff believed that a different type of programming needed to be offered to children and youth from homes where the family was disinterested in outdoor recreation. They reasoned that a detailed understanding of the subtle socialization forces at work in families with positive attitudes toward wildland recreation might allow programmers to mimic these forces in programming. This strategy may increase the chances that program participants would later, as young adults, develop a sustained interest in wildland recreation activities.Life history narratives were conducted with canoeists and kay akers and a contrast group of disinterested nonparticipants. Analysis consisted of identifYing the differences in their experiences growing up, as well as how the two groups perceived themselves as differing from each other. Paddlers had accumulated a large number of varied outdoor experiences, while nonparticipants had few if any experiences with wildland environments and activities. Results suggested that introduction to wildland recreation activities involve not just the development of skills specific to the activity but also competency in related activities such as wayfinding, travel planning, swimming ability, physical comfort and interest in wildland environments, and tolerance for fi.ill-body contact with natural bodies of water. Several support or ancillary skills made either the activity possible (wayfinding and travel planning) or the activity seem safer (swimming). A wildland environmental socialization process, in which the person becomes comfortable and confident in wild environments, regardless of the activity in which they are participating, may be essential. Being in a supportive and enthusiastic social group provides positive social reinforcement and a buffer from ridicule by outsiders.An "Outdoor Club" approach to programming in which an intact group of children regularly take trips with the same adults may be an optimal method to target youth from disinterested families. This strategy allows programmers to make sure the participants learn ancillary as well as wildland recreation activity skills, and provide frequent outdoor experiences in a supportive social group. Additionally, park districts may also wish to work closely with organizations such as Sierra Club's Inner City Outings which already have some of the program elements identified in this research. In contrast, programs touted as introducing underrepresented populations to outdoor recreation d1at only involve a single contact should be viewed with skepticism.





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