At the top of the list of recreation activities in which southerners participate are walking for pleasure, attending family gatherings, visiting nature centers, sightseeing, driving for pleasure, picnicking, viewing or photographing natural scenery, and visiting historic sites. Very far down the list are high-technology, high-skill activities such as rock climbing and whitewater kayaking that often occupy much of the attention of forest recreation managers.
Participation in most outdoor recreation activities has been growing steadily over the last few years. Of forest-based activities, viewing and photographing fish, wildlife, birds, wildflowers, and native trees are among the fastest growing in the South. Other fast-growing activities include jet skiing, kayaking, day hiking, and backpacking.
To southerners, outdoor recreation is a highly important part of their lifestyles. But because of climate and type of forest setting, the abundance of forests in the South, in comparison with other less forested regions of the country, does not result in higher per capita forest recreation participation.
Thirty-one percent of residents of the South participate in gathering a wide variety of natural products, including nontimber forest products (NTFP). Most do so noncommercially. Sustaining availability of some NTFP resources will depend in large part on institutional capacities for education, monitoring, incentives, land management, and other conservation actions.
Numerous recreation opportunities of many types are available across the South. They are found in a wide variety of settings, ranging from large tracts of undeveloped land to highly developed theme parks in largely urban settings, both in public and private ownerships.
Of public ownerships, Federal tracts typically are large and mostly undeveloped. They fill a niche of providing back-country recreation. State parks and forests are usually smaller and more developed. They provide camping, picnicking, swimming, fishing, nature interpretation, and scenery.
The outdoor recreation supply potentials of public land will depend on policy evolution. On southern national forests, greater protection of roadless lands is likely, while at the same time recreation is increasingly finding its way to the tops of the priority lists of national forest managers. These trends are not as yet linked, but they should be by explicit policies. National parks will serve a different supply role because they are managed first to protect park resources, and secondly for public enjoyment. On U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges, recreation is viewed as an incidental or secondary use and is not allowed unless it is directly related to a refuge’s primary purpose.
While continuing to grow, adjust, and adapt, State government land systems, especially State parks, have reached a point of seeming maturity as a recreation resource, except for expansion of high-end resort developments which provide better sources of revenue.
Recreation access to private land is increasingly limited to the owners themselves, their families or friends, and lessees. The number of southern private owners allowing the public to recreate on their land has been decreasing.
Accommodating future public recreation demand increases will likely fall mostly to public providers, most of which will continue to face significant budget and capacity constraints. Some of this pressure would be reduced if private owners, the primary group of forest owners in the region, were willing to open more of their vast forested land holdings to public recreation. Current trends are not promising, however. Increasing demands for off-road vehicle use, hunting, fishing, and other of the more consumptive recreational activities are likely to bring about more conflicts between recreation participants and landowners.
As forest recreation demands grow, recreation activities are likely to conflict more with each other, especially on trails, in back country, at developed sites, on flat water (large rivers and lakes), in streams and whitewater, and on roads and their nearby environs. Typically a greater degree of conflict is perceived by one group of recreation users (usually traditional and nonmotorized users) than is perceived by other groups (usually nontraditional and mechanized/motorized users).
Depending on the characteristics of recreation use, the forest site, and site management, recreation can have a variety of impacts on soil, water, vegetation, and animal life. Almost all types of recreation activity have impacts, but this is especially so for motorized uses.
Forested areas in the South with heavy recreation pressures include the coastal Carolinas; coastal Florida; coastal Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana; the “Piedmont Crescent”; south-central Mississippi; the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains; and northeastern West Virginia.