Every June, outdoor writers from across the nation meet to discuss the state of the industry and award those they deem worthy of recognition. For the fourth year in a row, the St. Petersburg Times was named the best outdoors section in the country.
The past year has been tough for newspapers. Many of my colleagues have watched in frustration as their space has shrunk or disappeared. Many have been reassigned to other beats. Some have lost their jobs.
Fortunately, here at the Times, the commitment to outdoors coverage has not wavered over the past two decades. When I started this job, most outdoors reports focused strictly on fishing and hunting. These "hook and bullet" sections, as they were often called, were the mainstays of the outdoors coverage.
But times have changed. People still hunt and fish, but they also backpack and kayak. The outdoors is no longer the exclusive realm of middle-aged white men. More than ever before, women, children and minorities are involved in a wider range of outdoors sports.
Recent data from a Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association survey shows that many non-traditional outdoors sports are growing by leaps and bounds. Most of these sports are seen as family/social activities, which is not surprising because the economic downturn has prompted many people to look for entertainment closer to home.
The fastest growing sports, according to SGMA data comparing 2007 to 2008, include ultimate Frisbee (up 20.8%), backpacking (18.5%), surfing (18.2%), trail running (15.2%) and bicycling on non-paved surfaces (10.2%).
The Great Outdoors continue to draw millions of Americans each year. More than 40 million people went freshwater fishing last year, according to SGMA. Another 33 million went camping and 32 million went for day hikes. What is the most popular "outdoors" sport in the country? Walking, with 111 million participants.
Now some of you may say, "Wait a minute … walking isn't an outdoors sport. Walking is what you do between your air-conditioned car and your air-conditioned office."
But I disagree. I think any activity — including scuba diving, sea kay- aking, wind surfing — that gets you outside and moving should be considered an outdoors sport.
June 13 was National Get Outdoors Day. Hopefully, millions across the nation used this as an excuse to head out and get some fresh air. Timex, which makes a variety of sport and expedition watches, surveyed Americans of all walks of life in connection with this event.
The vast majority of those surveyed (87%) said that they feel they should take time every week to get outdoors. Most (72%) said that it would probably leave them feeling less "stressed." Sadly, however, roughly one third of those surveyed (35%) said they would probably have less opportunity to enjoy the outdoors because of the economy.
The next generation, the so-called "Millennials," those surveyed in the 18 to 24 age group, are not taking advantage of the outdoors. According to the Timex survey, they spend an average of five hours a day on the computer, three hours a day socializing with friends and fewer than two hours a day outdoors.
About one in five of those who responded said the main reason they don't get outside is because they don't know what to do or where to go.
That's where we come in. We will continue to provide you with the best possible outdoors and fitness coverage in the nation. Hopefully, we will make you stop, think and perhaps even try something new.
Who knows where it may lead you? In March, I ran into a fellow on the beach who was about to paddle his sea kayak from St. Petersburg to Key Largo. A decade ago, he would have never dreamed of doing something so adventurous. But, one day he read a story in the Times about a race called the Water Tribe Challenge, which inspired him. Now that's an accomplishment we're proud of.