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Why We Need Nature & Outdoor Recreation in the Face of a Crisis

Why We Need Nature & Outdoor Recreation in the Face of a Crisis Posted on April 9, 2020

At this point, you’re probably so sick of hearing the “C” word. Coronavirus, COVID-19 or whatever it may be has literally taken over every American’s (nee Earth-dweller’s) life. I think about my weekly routine and how it’s completely upended itself. I was laid off from work, can’t go to the gym to climb or take a yoga class, I can’t enjoy a meal at a neighborhood restaurant or even really go to the grocery store.  But enough about that. Life has changed as we know it but I want to know about the long-term impacts of what it means to remove an entire piece of my life from the picture. But why do I need to continue taking part in outdoor recreation and spending time in nature in this time of global crisis? And should I?

Anything to keep life normal

Look at any weekend in the life of an “outdoorsy person.” If it’s too hot to climb, we float in the river or escape to higher altitudes. If it’s too cold to backpack or hike then it’s time for snowboarding. When we’re lucky enough, we can get in a few cross-over times where you can get in a 2-sport day.

Spending time outside is normal for me and so many others- it’s just how it is. So if we’re cut off from accessing the trees and rocks that we so desperately cling to every weekend, that what else are we missing? My new normal is not normal at all. In the face of crisis, all we can ask for is a return to normal. I don’t need to come out of to the other side of this with a new hobby or having mastered a new breadmaking technique.  I want to return to my every day, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary, I know-what-to-expect normal. And that means spending some time on the wall, mat, trail or chairlift.

Bringing people together

A life outdoors is rarely solitary. You’re almost always with a partner or even a whole crew. For me, that’s the most important part of it all. I love climbing because of the community it gathers. I love snowboarding for the chairlift comedy breaks and the parking lot BBQs.

For a lot of people at this time, spending time outdoors (even from a safe 6 feet apart), outdoor recreational activities might be the only IRL interaction they’re receiving right now. We can have Google Hangout Happy Hours, but nothing will ever beat a beer with a friend, cards with the crew or a late-night gathered around the campfire.

Actual scientific studies by actual scientists have shown that online-only social interaction (especially through Social Media) has serious detrimental impacts while face-to-face interactions greatly improve mood and overall well-being. So yes, life in the wake of Coronavirus brings up an entirely different issue of how we interact as humans. But can we not agree that activities that bring people together have the two-fold benefit of outdoor activity and human interaction?

Support Your Local Gearhead

Aside from collecting vintage cars, I can’t think of a hobby that’s more expensive than outdoor recreation. Between the $800 ski pass and the growing collection of miscellaneously sized carabiners & webbing, this life can get pricey. Yes, I know big corporations are definitely benefitting but on the local scale, every person who commits to a new outdoor hobby, is putting money back into our communities’ pockets. I know so many of us try to buy gear locally but even if you get your newest addition to your trad rack from REI, you’re still impacting a smaller community.

Take some of your biggest names in the industry like Patagonia or Black Diamond. They are all doing their part to have a positive impact. You’d be hard-pressed to find another industry that cares so much about the people they serve, the community they’re in and the environment they’re impacting.

Also, most of these brands are located (and producing) out of small pockets of the world. Some examples include Melanzana (Leadville, CO), Sterling Ropes (Biddeford, ME) and even Moosejaw Mountaineering (Madison Heights, MI).

Domestic Tourism in the Long Run

Also, so many of these small towns thrive on the tourism that outdoor recreation creates. Again, there’s an argument to be had that us Chaco-wearing, HydroFlask drinkers are wreaking havoc on these small towns. But it’s not all bad. If you’ve got the time to read it, this report outlines the impact that tourism has on small mountain towns throughout the world. A community-based approach to growth (meaning that the residents of the community are the one opening new shops and restaurants) has a ripple effect throughout the entire community, driven by us Chaco-wearing, HydroFlask drinkers.

So what does this all mean in the wake of Coronavirus? Don’t go to Moab or Joshua Tree right now since their health systems can’t handle an influx of out-of-towners. We can’t go to our neighbor gear shop with Stay-at-Home orders in place. But once this is all over, we’ll get out there and spend that fresh Stimulus check at a mountaineering shop in a small town.

Because we’re sensitive organisms that need water, oxygen, and sunlight

Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced that in the wake of the statewide Stay-at-Home orders, city metro parks, state parks and natural open spaces would remain open. At the governmental level, it’s widely recognized and accepted that access to fresh air and exercise is essential.

But back to science, where researchers found that human’s brains respond differently to various environments, and that simply viewing nature scenes can calm the brain and reduce stress-related hormones. There’s another study that shows being surrounded by trees and greenery lower rates of crime.

The University of Illinois published a massive report about how access to nature is not just beneficial, but essential to human health. A snippit from the data states:

“Elderly adults tend to live longer if their homes are near a park or other green space, regardless of their social or economic status. College students do better on cognitive tests when their dorm windows view natural settings. Children with ADHD have fewer symptoms after outdoor activities in lush environments. Residents of public housing complexes report better family interactions when they live near trees.”

I don’t think that being confined to my apartment is going to drive me to murder (check back in another 30 days, though) but I can guarantee that a walk to the park, a bike ride around the neighborhood or even just being on my sunny porch will improve my mood and reduce levels of stress. Beyond that, exerting your body and getting your blood pumping on an outdoor, more wild, adventure will have compounded affects. The emotional impact of being far out there is unparalleled. It’s obvious how access to the outdoors is important for our bodies and minds, but at what cost? And how far outside do we really need to be?

We’ve found ourselves with extra time (some more than others thanks to unemployment), on the brink of summertime with the itch to get out, so what do we do? I go back and forth every day if now is the time to get out there. To hike, to climb, to try new things I haven’t before. I wrestle with questions about responsibility, safety, lawfulness, and even social shaming. But in the same vein, it feels like such a waste to have free time, beautiful weather and essentially empty crags and trails to do what I love and need, and to stay home.  A walk around the neighborhood, a drive to the mountains or a run through the park will fulfill my basic needs for fresh air, but can that really be enough? Should I really have to stay home? I ask myself this every day.

But here we are. Because it’s not about me, it’s not about my hobbies or my needs. It’s not even really about our small businesses or local economies. It’s much bigger than that, and it’s about our ability to sacrifice what we know and love, for the better of the world. So yes, we do need outdoor recreation in times of crisis. But the world needs me to stay home. So I will.

The sun will rise tomorrow, the rocks will remain unmoved and the trees steadfast. They’ll wait for me so I will wait for them.