Newly released study finds participation in outdoor recreation activities hit record levels in 2021

Continued rise in participation underscores need to invest in the long-term success of Michigan’s parks and outdoor spaces

A group of people walk along a boardwalk single file. The path winds through the forest at Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow in Michigan.
Leaf Peeping Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy a hike at the Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow. © Rebekah Wuchner/TNC

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According to a report recently released by The Outdoor Foundation, more than half of Americans over the age of six participated in outdoor activities in 2021 and 164 million people nationwide enjoyed the outdoors last year. Since 2020, the number of people who try an outdoor recreation activity for the first time—or get back in touch with nature—has increased by more than 25%, according to the 2022 Outdoor Participation Trends Report.

“It’s great to see more Americans, including Michiganders, getting out and enjoying all the outdoors have to offer. After all, studies have shown spending time outdoors helps reduce stress and anxiety,” said Rich Bowman, policy director for The Nature Conservancy in Michigan. “This steady increase in participation though means the Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer need to look at the long-term success of our state and local parks and outdoor spaces—and that starts with approving a one-time appropriation to the State Park Endowment Fund.”

The state has an estimated $6 billion budget surplus, and a $500 million—one-time deposit—into the State Park Endowment Fund is equivalent to a $50 million to $80 million tax cut forever, because taxes won’t be needed to fund the operations of our state parks.

It will provide critical funding for the operation and maintenance of state parks, so Michigan can maintain the world-class park facilities that will be built in the next few years thanks to the Legislature’s $250 million investment in state parks infrastructure that was passed this spring.

Fully funding the State Park Endowment Fund will also trigger the allocation of revenues from the royalties on oil, gas, and mining operations of state-owned minerals to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, which supports outdoor projects throughout the state.

“By allocating $500 million to the State Park Endowment Fund, the Legislature and governor will make an unprecedented investment in our outdoor spaces and fulfill the goal of Proposal 1, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2020, long before many thought it was possible,” Bowman said. “Michigan’s natural areas are part of the fabric of our state, and we should take advantage of every chance we get to invest in our most precious natural resources so they can be enjoyed by future generations of Michiganders.”

While the Outdoor Participation Trends Report doesn’t provide a state-by-state breakdown, it does provide regional data. The East North Central Region, which includes Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois, had more than 15% of its populations enjoying the outdoors over the last six years.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. The Nature Conservancy is working to make a lasting difference around the world in 77 countries and territories (41 by direct conservation impact and 36 through partners) through a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on X.