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The More Outdoors Enthusiasts the Merrier

If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s to be accepting, loving, and supportive of others. With COVID-19 still attacking humanity and causing the worldwide economy to struggle, this is a lesson I was forced to learn. I try my best to think outside the box, and am attempting that daily. During the first few months of the pandemic, we thought staying indoors would be the healthiest option, but over time we learned that outdoor activities have a very low risk of contracting the virus—that is, if we socially distance, of course. With indoor activities not being an option, trails and campgrounds are seeing much heavier traffic than usual. 

I’ve heard some people in the outdoor community express frustrations. I’ve heard some say, “Too much trail traffic makes me want to stay home,” and “Where were all these people last year? They’re disrupting my hike.” These folks are right about an influx of outdoor enthusiasts enjoying nature, but I love the diversity COVID has blessed us with. Change is a huge part of life—whether you like it or not, it’s happening. 

This is a topic I’ve discussed in the past with my Hello Ranger article, “The Outdoors is for All,” but let me tell you why more outdoor activity is positive for you. 

Photo courtesy of Gateway Arch National Park/NPS

Mental Health
Spending more time outdoors helps mental and emotional health. Personally, I need exploration and adventure to stay mentally healthy. We’re living in extremely tough times, with depression and anxiety prone to increase. Having a community of mentally healthy people is beneficial in many ways. A Karen-style meltdown can be entertaining, but it’s one of the saddest things to see. The healthier our community is, the better our community will be to each other.

Physical Health
Being physically active decreases your chance of many physical health-related issues and diseases. Before COVID-19, it seemed like exercising wasn’t a popular activity for a large part of our population, but we’ve learned staying in pristine physical health will decrease the effects of the virus. Being physically fit also helps decrease heart disease, diabetes, and a plethora of other health issues. Ultimately, the healthier our population is, the less strain it puts on our healthcare system. 

Diversity
A more diverse community using gear helps outdoor brands develop better gear. I work at REI, so trust me on this one. Unintentionally, most of the gear on the market has been discriminatory to many demographics. Having a diverse community needing gear will push brands to create products for all people. I’ve worked closely with a few 400-lb. customers who struggle to find gear that will be reliable and the right size. On a more personal level, I often have to create and develop gear that works for wheelchair-users like myself. Having more inclusive gear helps create access to nature and promotes the notion that nature is for all people.

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Haleakala Crater Trails District/Photo courtesy of Haleakala National Park/NPS

Land Conservation & Preservation
We’ve seen some negative moves in conservation and land preservation over the last 4.5 years. My hope is, with more people being active in the outdoors, society—and law-makers—will understand why protecting the outdoors is important. Right now, being outside is all we have. Can you imagine if we didn’t protect our land? Where would we recreate? Would life be worth living without beautiful flowers and trees? So, if more people are interested in protecting land, more funding will be offered to conservation organizations that are working against an administration that doesn’t seem to care about future generations. Protecting and conserving locally through grassroots movements is important, but we need large-scale help.

Example Setting
You have the opportunity to set an example so new outdoors folks know how to treat nature. As much as the outdoors teaches us true freedom, on-trail etiquette is important to understand. I’ve learned a lot over my lifetime, and am still learning how to behave outdoors, by examples set by others. Try your best to not let frustration get the best of you when you see a trail “no-no” happening in front of you. Remember back to when you just started out—you weren’t perfect. Of course, don’t approach with anger because nobody likes a trail-Karen. Spark up a conversation and ease into trail etiquette. If talking isn’t your thing, just set the example and hope newcomers follow your lead. 

Can’t you see the importance of new outdoor enthusiasts? The trail may be busy, but let’s think bigger picture. Everyone is making sacrifices during these difficult times. It’s not fair, but it’s what we have to do to keep society moving forward. Your sacrifices aren’t going to kill you, and are appreciated no matter if they’re acknowledged or not. 

I’ve only listed five positives to the increase of people recreating outdoors. I’m sure the list can go on and on and on. What are some positives you’ve come up with? I’d love to hear more. Feel free to reach out via Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

Header photo: Courtesy of Lake Mead National Recreation Area/NPS

Matthew Tilford didn’t lose his hunger for adventure when he sustained a life-changing spinal cord injury. Being outdoors has been a huge part of his healing process. Being a wheelchair-user, he learned to adapt and to be creative in order to fulfill outdoor passions.

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