Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Fulfilment

The Call Of The Wild? Wrong Number

In the popular American imagination, Paradise has long been synonymous with Wide Open Spaces.  The nearest thing to heaven on earth that Americans of a certain age can imagine is a vast national park, a kind of celestial Yosemite.  In reality, they don’t have to wait for the afterlife.  It’s all there, waiting to be visited. 

A century ago, America was the trailblazer in developing the concept of big national parks, and the country has plenty of them – for instance the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the Appalachians.  Aside from astonishing scenic beauty, the park offers a thousand miles of hiking paths, bike tracks, riding trails and frontier-style cabins. 

So how come young Americans seem conspicuously uninterested in all this?  Most, it appears, are unaware of Old Smoky’s existence, even when the tour bus they are riding drives right through the middle of it.  It’s just that boring bit between the novelty souvenir shop in Cherokee NC and the roller-coaster rides of the Dollywood Theme Park.  Why bother looking up from your iPhone, dude?

Visits to America’s wilderness parks grew steadily from around 70 million a year in 1960 to almost 300 million in the late 1980s.  Since then they have plateaued and dipped.  The great outdoors must have been a retro, Baby Boomer  thing, since the average age of park visitors now gets higher every year.  In the Smokies, the over-60s represented 10% of visitors in 1996, but 17% in 2008.  The share represented by under-16s has plummeted.  As a director of the National Park Service ruefully observed, “It seems as if the national parks have never been more passé than in the age of the iPhone”.

The parks have struggled manfully to engage America’s youth, mounting awareness drives in schools, rewarding young hikers with Junior Ranger badges, and even organizing high-tech scavenger hunts using GPS satellite-navigation devices.  None of it seems to work.

It transpires that other forms of entertainment now exert a much more powerful pull on the youthful imagination.  You want me to go where?  Look, I’m busy with my Xbox.  Take a hike, old man...

Zone: Self-Fulfilment Country: USA / North America Product – Leisure