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Our favorite stories about public lands and opportunities for you to get involved in protecting your outdoor experiences.


“Civic Recreation” and the New Conservation Movement

Tania Lown-Hecht

Photo credit: Mike Erskine

Photo credit: Mike Erskine

Most people involved with Outdoor Alliance or one of our member groups – Access Fund, American Canoe Association, American Whitewater, IMBA, Winter Wildlands, The Mountaineers, the Mazamas, American Alpine Club, Colorado Mountain Club, and Surfrider Foundation – wouldn’t be surprised by the idea that recreation advocacy groups are powerhouses for conservation these days.

Yet there’s not much research about how recreation groups cultivate civic engagement and are effective advocates for public lands and waters. A recent article by Rebecca Schild argues that these recreation organizations and their members are increasingly leading the charge to work with public land managers, care for wild places, and spearhead conservation efforts.

She makes the case that outdoor recreation organizations are promoting civic engagement and stewardship around public lands, in an evolution from the traditional environmental movement where power was consolidated among a few national-level advocacy organizations. She argues that this movement promoted “passive participation” among supporters, undermining the need for collaborative, local approaches to conservation.

In response, the recreation community has evolved its own advocacy that addresses some of “the shortcomings of traditional environmentalism.” Though outdoor recreation groups have a number of aims, including creating better infrastructure, improving access, and stewardship, they primarily work on behalf of their communities to promote responsible outdoor recreation and the protection of those landscapes. For many groups, this has led to close working relationships with land managers, collaborating to help them “co-manage” public lands.

Schild primarily studied local organizations connected to a larger national network, like local climbing and mountain biking clubs. 

Ultimately, she argues that “civic recreation” is a gateway for a larger conservation ethic. Outdoor recreation organizations have created and empowered a community, which is key for creating environmental and social change.

The full article is available through Environmental Management.