Some scaled a mountain. Some peered at birds through binoculars. Others jumped on the back of a horse, quad or snowmobile. Altogether, nearly seven in 10 B.C. adults took part in some form of outdoor recreation over the past year, a new study has found.
The survey, carried out in May by Ipsos on behalf of the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC, included 800 British Columbians. Respondents faced a number of questions ranging from how they participate in outdoor recreation, what motivates them and how they value outdoor trails.
The results, which inevitably included paddlers, backcountry skiers, campers and hunters, found outdoor participation saw a slight decline to 68 per cent from 70 per cent a year earlier.
A similar study in the United States found 54 per cent of U.S. residents took part in outdoor participation in 2022. And while that study included children over six, ORCBC's executive director Louise Pedersen said the B.C. findings reassert what many residents already know: the outdoors really matters to people living on Canada's West Coast.
“The interest is remarkable. It’s really strong,” Pedersen said. “It’s part of our culture.”
Survey finds outdoor participation faces regional, gender and income gaps
Roughly 73 per cent of males and 85 per cent of younger people took part in an outdoor activity over the past 12 months, while 79 per cent those living in households that earn more than $100,000 also stayed busy outside. Respondents who have children or live in B.C.’s Interior or North were also more likely to participate in an outdoor activity.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Pedersen, a Nelson resident, said of the regional gap. “Most of what we have going for us here, it’s all connected to the outdoors.”
At the same time, Pedersen said the data could indicate people in Metro Vancouver don’t have enough access to parks and outdoor recreation.
“Presenting decision makers with data like this, it is helpful,” she said. “But it raises a lot more questions than it answers.”
British Columbians least likely to participate in outdoor recreation, on the other hand, included Metro Vancouver residents, females and people over 55 years old, whose outdoor participation rate ranged from 65 to 48 per cent.
The survey found most people taking part in outdoor recreation were equally motivated by spending time in nature, relaxing or disconnecting, and being physically active outside.
Younger generations, such as Gen Z, were more likely to spend time outdoors to hang out with family and friends. Those who fell into the Baby Boomer cohort were more likely to use the outdoors to stay physically fit.
Eight in 10 respondents said access to trails, parks, day-use areas or campsites were important to them — both close to home and throughout the province.
Growing role of volunteers
Roughly 93 per cent of respondents recognized trails and other outdoor facilities required maintenance, but few were aware how much volunteers were involved in their upkeep.
Pedersen said groups that used to maintain the province’s trail system have faced a number of budgetary cuts over the past two decades, forcing volunteers to step in.
“The need for more volunteers will continue to grow as our trails need more regular maintenance and cleanup when more people venture outdoors, and we need to ensure they are well supported,” she said.
The poll surveyed 800 people between May 12 and 15. It carries a margin of error of plus or minus four per cent.