recently took an online test designed to determine how much and what
kind of exercise I like to do. My results indicated that I was someone
who enjoyed exercising outside. I can't say I was surprised, since
I have been a backpacker since about age 14, a bird watcher for almost
two decades, a cross-country skier since I moved to California, an
avid road cyclist for the last ten years or so, and am now dabbling
in downhill skiing.
I am not alone in my desire for outdoor exercise. According to
"Public Opinions and Attitudes on Outdoor Recreation in California
2002," a telephone and mail survey conducted by the State Parks
Department, almost all of those who responded said they'd participated
in at least one of the top ten outdoor activities for at least
part of a day in 2002. In case you're wondering, the top ten (of
55 activities listed in the survey) are: walking for fitness or
fun, driving for pleasure, visiting historic sites, attending cultural
events, beach and pool activities, visiting museums, picnicking
at developed sites, wildlife viewing, trail hiking, and "using
open turf areas" for games, relaxing, or other casual activities.
A secondary survey of a much smaller number of Californians age
17 and under showed about the same percentages for participation,
but a different top ten list: walking; visiting swimming pools,
water sites, beaches, outdoor nature centers, outdoor cultural
events, and historic and cultural sites; picnicking; biking on
paved surfaces; and playing in open turf areas.
The full list of outdoor activities practiced by Californians is
staggeringly long, running from abalone diving to visiting zoos.
As I pointed out in a previous column, this is a state known for
inventing new outdoor activities, as well as attracting devotees
to the old ones. Managing all these activities is an enormous challenge,
especially with California's population growing by about 500,000
people a year. Moreover, the state has the most ethnically diverse
population among the 50 states, and it is growing at both ends of
the age spectrum. Aging boomers and young people often have very
different recreational needs.
Managing an ever-growing and often conflicting range of recreational
activities is the job of State Parks and our regional and local park
systems. Acquiring more land in coastal areas is our job. Since 1999
the Coastal Conservancy has helped acquire almost 150,000 acres of
land for Californians. In 2005 alone the SCC helped protect 5,700
acres (4,323 acres in fee and 1,374 acres under conservation easements)
of land for public recreation and to protect natural and scenic properties.
Voters have been extraordinarily supportive of parks and open space,
passing resource bond measures four times in the last five years.
This has enabled the Conservancy and our sister agencies, such as
the Wildlife Conservation Board and State Parks, to add significantly
to our state's open space. All else being equal, the more land we
can protect and make available for recreation, the easier it will
be to accommodate the huge diversity of needs and expectations for
outdoor recreation. We still face daunting challenges managing the
diversity of experiences desired by our ever-increasing population,
but so far we have risen to the task of growing our natural capital.
I am hopeful that Californians will continue to put their money
into the places their feet want to go. As long as we do, we will
be able to accommodate future residents' desire for outdoor life.
Perhaps I'll even be able to take up some new sports. I already like
white water rafting
. . . maybe I should take up kayaking?
Sam Schuchat is the executive officer of the Coastal Conservancy