By Bob Frye
Monroeville, Pa. – This idea of reconnecting people with nature
and getting them back into the outdoors may prove trickier than
That’s because there’s less than total agreement on what getting
“outdoors” means and how best to get people there.
All of that was made clear at the Boyce Park Ski Lodge in
Allegheny County, when more than 50 people gathered for what was
the third in a series of five meetings being held around the state
to discuss ways of getting people outside and active. The meetings
are an outgrowth of Gov. Ed Rendell’s Outdoors Conference, which
was held in March at Penn State.
At that event, professors, outdoor industry leaders,
conservationists, hunters and anglers, and others gathered to talk
about the growing disconnect between people and nature and possible
ways of remedying that.
Several speakers noted, for example, that because children today
get outside less often – be it to fish, take a hike or ride their
bike – they could become the first generation of Americans to die
younger than their parents. They also pointed out that activities
like hunting, fishing and the like are largely stagnating in terms
The meeting in Boyce Park and the others like it were meant to
solicit recommendations from the general public on how to change
that. There may be no easy answers, however.
Several people at the Boyce Park meeting, for example, suggested
that allowing hunting on Sundays would make it easier for working
people to get outdoors. Others, though, said they hate that
Dave Druschel raises beef cattle on a farm near Harmony. He
hunts and lets friends and neighbors hunt on his land. He also
rides horses, though, and doesn’t think he – or hikers or bird
watchers or others – should have to compete with hunters on
“That offends me. That’s my day,” Druschel said.
He later said that if hunters want to hunt on Sundays on game
lands, that would be OK, but he doesn’t want to see the practice
moved to other properties.
There was also disagreement about what constitutes getting
“outdoors.” After one or two speakers stressed the need to
get more people involved specifically in hunting and fishing,
Lindsay Totten of Cheswick said that might be a bit misguided.
She does not oppose either activity, she said. She’d welcome
hunters removing a few of the deer that eat her shrubbery, she
But attempts to convert hikers and bikers like herself and
children who exercise outdoors by playing sports like youth soccer
into sportsmen are missing the point, she said.
“We shouldn’t be trying to siphon off people who are
already outside from one kind of activity to another. We need to
get the people who are inside on their couches outside,” she
There was also a lot of talk about the need to reach out to
children. But “Grizzly” Gary Wert, a radio show host from
northwestern Pennsylvania, said such a strategy misses the
“We hear all the time, kids, kids, kids,” Wert said.
“We shouldn’t be focusing on kids. We need to get to their
moms. If mom goes out kayaking or hiking or fishing or whatever and
likes it, then the kids will try it and they’ll like it too. We
need to get the moms first, the kids second.”
All of those kinds of suggestions will be evaluated, processed
and prioritized this summer.
A report – full of recommendations on how to get people involved
with nature – will result from the Governor’s Outdoors Conference
and the public meetings being held around the state. It is due to
come out sometime this fall.
In the meantime, anyone wanting to learn more about the
conference or the issues it is focusing on can visit the Web at