The Future of Outdoor Recreation in the South

Key Findings from the Southern Forest Futures Project Technical Report

Research for the Southern Forest Futures Report found that hiking is the recreational activity that will increase the most by 2060. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

The Southern Forest Futures Project Technical Report provides an interdisciplinary assessment of potential futures of southern forests and the many benefits they provide. The Southern Forest Futures Project (SFFP) started in 2008 as an effort to study and understand the various forces reshaping the forests across the 13 states of the Southeast. Chartered by the U.S. Forest Service Southern Region and Southern Research Station (SRS) , along with the Southern Group of State Foresters, the project examines a variety of possible futures and how they might shape forests and their many ecosystems and values.

In Chapter 8 of the technical report, SRS research social scientist J. Michael Bowker and fellow authors focus on projecting natural resource-based outdoor demand at a broad regional scale. For the southern region through 2060, they develop and present projections of the number of participants in 10 traditional outdoor recreation activities, the number of days of adult participation in the same activities, and the number of recreation visits to national forests by national forest setting.

Key Findings:

  • By 2060, the number of southern adults participating in each of 10 different popular outdoor recreation activities is projected to increase. Depending on future demographic, economic, land use, and population changes, the activity demonstrating the least growth in participants is hunting (8–25 percent).The activity projected to demonstrate the most growth is day hiking (70–113 percent).
  • For many activities, participation will grow similarly to the population growth rate. However, the number of participants in fishing, hunting, and motorized off-roading will grow slower than the regional population, as a smaller proportion of adults are projected to engage in these activities. Conversely, the growth in the number of participants in birding and day-hiking is projected to exceed that of the population.
  • By 2060, the number of days that southern adults will participate annually in each of 10 different outdoor recreation activities is projected to increase. The smallest increase in days of participation will be for hunting (8–24 percent), while the largest increase in days of participation will be for day hiking (77–116 percent).
  • Days of annual participation for each of the 10 activities are projected to increase at rates similar to the growth in participant numbers.
  • Acres of southern forest and rangeland per recreation participant will decline by up to 50 percent across the various activities by 2060. Acres per participant in hiking will shrink the most, while acres per participant for hunting will shrink the least.
  • Annual user days per acre of forest and rangeland for recreation activities will increase most by 2060 for horseback riding on trails (up to 151 percent) and hiking (up to 118 percent) and least for motorized off-road use (up to 59 percent) and hunting (up to 34 percent).
  • Depending on social and economic factors, southern national forest recreation visits are projected by 2060 to increase across all site types: Wilderness (38–72 percent), day use developed sites (35–70 percent), overnight use developed sites (30–64 percent), and general forest area (22–55 percent).
  • Because southern national forest acreage is expected to stay approximately constant to 2060, visits per acre across the various site types will grow at same rate as visits.

The complete list of key findings as well as narrative and maps are available in Chapter 8 of the SFFP report .

For more information, contact Mike Bowker at

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