2015-07-11 / Outdoors

Wolf Tracks

Dave Wolf

Getting outdoors means different things to different people.

Bringing those diverse ideas and personalities together to decide how to use our land is always a challenge.

Pennsylvania’s outdoor agencies did just that in compiling an outdoor recreation plan in 2014. Now is the time for those of us who enjoy the outdoors to get out of the house, enjoy ourselves, and continue to share our feedback with state agencies

I have never been a hiking fanatic, but I have trekked more miles under my soles than most people my age while hunting, fishing or otherwise exploring the outdoors. My wife and I have joined the ranks of “mature” Pennsylvanians -- and have no intention of slowing down.

In Pennsylvania and nationally, the percentage of people 65 and older is increasing. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Pennsylvania was one of the oldest states, with 15.4 percent of the population 65 and over. Florida had 17.3 percent.

Bird watching has steadily been gaining popularity in Pennsylvania, according to research associated with the new state recreation plan. Photo by Dave Wolf Bird watching has steadily been gaining popularity in Pennsylvania, according to research associated with the new state recreation plan. Photo by Dave Wolf At 27 percent, Pennsylvania also had one of the highest percentages of babyboomers, born between 1946 and 1964.

In general, younger populations were found in the state’s southern and eastern counties, with older populations in the north and west.

Here is the eye-opener: by 2030, people over 65 are projected to grow to 23 percent of the state’s population. They are expected to live longer and lead more independent lives as they age.

Except for Forest and Centre counties, Pennsylvania’s population growth was predominantly centered in the east and southcentral counties. The slowest-growing counties were Cameron, Elk, Fayette, Beaver, Cambria, McKean, Greene, Armstrong, Warren, Allegheny and Venango. All of these counties lost population between 2000 and 2010.

In fact, many rural counties have lost population since the 1980s, and 29 Pennsylvania counties continued to lose population between 2000 and 2010. Twenty-five of these counties were in the rural north and northwestern parts of the state.

At the same time, the average size of households in Pennsylvania continued to decrease, with fewer families choosing to have kids, and smaller numbers of children in families that do. Family structure continues to shift away from a traditional “nuclear family” to include more single parents, and couples without children.

What does this all mean to the outdoors?

These changes could affect the type of family groups visiting facilities, the role women play in shaping recreational policy or family vacation decision-making, and the time households have for leisure time activities.

Much of it boils down to money when it comes to the type, quality and quantity of recreation Pennsylvanians will pursue. This may exclude some people from higher-quality leisure time activities. It could also lead to increased conflict, a reevaluation of fee structures, changes in government funding, responses to new transportation needs and the launch of new services to help the lower-income people.

Outdoor activities close to the home could become a higher priority for state funding.

Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation plan packs a big punch. It targets state parks, as well as community and urban parks. Many voices were heard as it was compiled, including the Pa. Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, Wild Turkey Federation and Trout Unlimited.

Although meetings were held throughout the state, they were poorly attended.

Hunters and anglers did get a pat on the back: “Due in part to a centuries-old hunting and fishing heritage, Pennsylvanians believe strongly in their natural resources, and taking care of what we have so these precious lands and waters can continue to be the setting for recreation for generations to come.”

The planning process measured changing habits. Participation in bird watching has grown from 17 percent of Pennsylvanians in 2003 and to 31 percent. Wildlife viewing has risen from 19 percent to 35 percent over the same time span.

Hunting participation increased steadily from 2003 (11 percent), to 2009 (13 percent), to 2014 (15 percent). However, fishing declined over that time period from 28 percent to 20 percent. I would wager that another category that was not measured – outdoor photography – would show a significant increase.

Now is the time for outdoor-oriented people to take the plan to heart and share their experiences.

Hearing positive feedback about your favorite activities could make a major difference, especially in the dawning era of significant challenges to the outdoor life in Pennsylvania.

(Dave Wolf may be reached by email at wolfang418@msn.com.)

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