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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Americans have headed outdoors in record numbers during the pandemic

The constraints placed on indoor activities by the COVID-19 pandemic are driving people outdoors, in record numbers.

Participation in traditional outdoor pursuits such as fishing, hunting, boating, tent and RV camping, hiking, and paddle sports has increased since 2019, according to a number of surveys.

Other activities outside are on the rise too. For fitness and to help clear the mind of worry and stress, more Americans are riding bicycles, walking and running, practicing yoga or meditating, or starting a daily exercise routine.

Lakeshore camping (Photo from Flickr Commons)

In hard times we go back to our roots of self-sufficiency, planting “victory gardens” in the backyard. Digging in the soil, planting seeds, nurturing young plants, and watching them grow to maturity, yielding flowers and food crops for the table, is as satisfying and mentally healthy as anything we can do outside.

Others are discovering the relaxation of being socially distanced around a backyard fire ring, watching the flames leap into the night air.

Another activity on the rise is grilling out with family and friends. There’s nothing more soothing than good conversation, a cold drink, and the smell of burgers, chicken wings or steaks sizzling away.

Going outside is liberating, an opportunity to take off the hated mask, mandated by authoritarians, and breathe in freedom, the fresh air of dawn or dusk. Look up to the sky and let the cool rains wash away your fears and worries.

If possible, take a trip to the outdoors destination you have always wanted to visit and surround yourself with flowing streams, soaring timber, peaceful lakes or green mountains. With autumn right around the corner, now is a good time to plan your dream trip, to enjoy the colorful foliage and cooler temperatures that will surely come, beginning in late September.

Below are some related facts and observations:

Mountain Biking at Breaks Interstate Park (Photo from Flickr Commons)

• This argument in favor of outdoor activities was posted on the Mayo Clinic website. “The COVID-19 virus is primarily spread from person to person among those in close contact, within about 6 feet. The virus spreads through respiratory droplets released into the air when talking, coughing, speaking, breathing or sneezing.

When you’re outside, fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing these droplets. So you’re less likely (to become infected) by breathing in the respiratory droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19.”

Other outdoor activities that the Mayo Clinic said participants were safe from becoming infected with COVID-19 include rollerblading, golfing, rock and ice climbing, scuba diving, skiing (cross-country and downhill skiing), ice skating, snowboarding and snowshoeing.

• The Associated Press reported that 8.1 million more Americans went hiking in 2020 than in 2019, 7.9 million more went camping, and 3.4 million more went freshwater fishing.

“States have seen a spike in sales of hunting and fishing licenses this year,” the article said.

“All of the things that hunting offers to people and the varied reasons people hunt all fit in with the pandemic,” said Louis Porter, Vermont’s fish and wildlife commissioner.

The rise in hunting license sales also reportedly shows a reversal in the decline of the sport’s popularity over recent years. Zane Groucher, a hunter in Michigan, told the AP that due to changes brought on by the pandemic, he finally decided to return to hunting after a 22-year-long break. He also brought his daughter with him, explaining that he was worried that she was getting too much screen time due to being cooped up in the house all day long.

Michigan experienced a 10 percent increase in hunting licenses, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources, and the number of people purchasing licenses for the first time in at least five years (or if ever) has risen an astounding 80 percent.

In Wisconsin, archery license sales climbed 12 percent, and Maine and Nevada have all also seen similar spikes.

Kayak Angling Photo courtesy Native Watercraft)

Fishing has also seen a rise in interest, with Idaho reporting an increase in fishing license sales of almost 30 percent over last year.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources reported a record 28 percent increase in hunting and fishing license sales from March 2020 to February 2021. “This was the most licenses we have sold in one year, by far,” said Phil Gray, wildlife licensing coordinator.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission reported an 18.74 percent increase across all categories of fishing licenses.

Launch permits to use commission facilities for boating, canoeing and kayaking increased 40.33 percent.

“I think it would be fair to say that (the pandemic) played a major role,” said Mike Park, communications director at the Fish and Boat Commission.

• An article posted on Yahoo! News gave these figures as part of the booming outdoors trend.

Golf saw a 27 percent year-over-year increase in rounds played in the U.S. from June to December, in 2020.

Tennis saw a 22 percent increase in the number of people who reported playing at least once.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

• On the investor’s website Barron’s, an article on recreational vehicles sales was posted on October 3 that was headlined RV sales have soared during the pandemic. These stocks could see more gains ahead.

“American vacationers took to the road this summer, pandemic be damned…(staying) in their own mobile bubbles. Sales of RVs roared to a near-record pace in June and July, after having tumbled in the spring.”

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association said North American RV sales rose 4.5 percent in 2020, to 424,400 units, despite three lost months of sales, and pandemic-related supply chain and labor disruptions.

• A study by the University of Vermont explored how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Americans’ relationship with nature.

“These data are like a treasure chest of the pandemic moment: a record of how people have been thinking about their relationship with the (natural) world in a time of great upheaval,” said Rachelle Gould, the study’s senior author.

Among women, the outdoor activities seeing the largest increases were: watching wildlife, up 64 percent, gardening, up 57 percent, taking photos, or making drawings or paintings in nature, up 54 percent, relaxing alone outside, up 58 percent, and walking, up 70 percent.

The study also found that people experienced a shift in why they value nature. During the pandemic, respondents said in nature they cherished a greater sense of mental health and wellbeing, 59 percent, exercise 29 percent, appreciating nature’s beauty, 29 percent, and spirituality, 22 percent.

The outdoors — nature’s beauty and the abundance of plants and animals we have here in Kentucky, and throughout North American — has always been a great escape.

The COVID-19 pandemic has just given us another reason to appreciate this bounty, and how it nourishes our body and soul.

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