Outdoor Recreation on an Incline

Theresa Garza suffers from depression. The 53-year-old Chicago resident says she often feels trapped inside her office as a conference services worker and that her condition worsens in times of gloomy weather. However, Garza finds relief in being immersed in nature and uses it as a way to cope with her troubles.

“Going outside and hiking cheers me up,” Garza said. “I go hiking when I feel overwhelmed with daily life and need an escape.”

 Many other people are participating in various forms of outdoor recreation as well, for reasons such as improving health, saving money on vacations and feeling in touch with nature.

The total number of nature outings in America, which include activities such as camping, skiing, fishing and more, reached an all-time high of 12.4 billion excursions in 2012. This was a 6.8 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Outdoor Foundation’s Outdoor Participation Report of 2013.

The director of marketing and communications at the Outdoor Foundation, Stasia Raines, states that she was not surprised by the findings of the study.

“If we look at the trend, it was very gradual over time, not a drastic increase,” the 33-year-old from Fort Worth, Texas said. “The participation rate overall was pretty expected based on what we’ve been seeing.”

As of 2012, 49.4 percent of Americans participated in outdoor recreation and Raines believes the percentage will continue rising gradually.

Experts believe that one of the main factors that contribute to the increase in outings is the unstable state of the economy. The Outdoor Participation Report of 2013 states that 60 percent of outdoor participants are from households with incomes less than $75,000, meaning that the majority of participants are members of the lower and middle classes.

 “Outdoor recreation tends to increase when the economy hits a bump,” Raines said. “With the downturn of the economy, people tend to stay close to home to avoid spending money and do things close to home like car-camping, fishing, or hiking.”

More people are also taking advantage of outdoor recreation as a way to improve their physical and mental health.

“It’s shown through scientific studies that spending time outside lessens the risk of children developing A.D.H.D., helps develop creativity, helps people relax and recreates a sense of peacefulness,” said 24-year-old Tom Georgevits, the director of partner projects at the American Recreation Coalition from Boston.  “Going outside has a host of emotional and developmental benefits.”

In order to unite people with a common interest in outdoor recreation, many individuals have organized groups to go on outings together. The Chicago Hiking, Outdoors, and Social Group was founded in 2010 with over 6000 members and organizes outings such as hiking, rock climbing, skiing and more, free of charge.

“The meet up is great because I get to meet other people who love hiking as much as I do,” said Rita Rumiano, a 45-year-old housewife from Lima, Peru. “None of my friends like to hike and I don’t like hiking alone so this group is perfect.”

The group met to go on a three-mile hike at the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Highland Park, Ill. on Monday, November 11.  This particular hike was aimed toward beginners because it was relatively short and flat; the group’s hikes range from two to 11 miles with various levels of inclines.

There were about 30 people in attendance, who were mainly middle-aged individuals who discovered the group from the social media website Meetup.com.

The hike started out on a main bike path, but after about a mile, the group went through a crevice in the trees to a narrow trail covered in dried brown leaves about 50 feet above a ravine. The trail ultimately led to the rocky shore of Lake Michigan.

“The lake was without a doubt the best view of the hike,” said 47-year-old real estate salesman Frank Schnitzler from Grayslake, Ill. “I felt like I was on the edge of the world.”

Many activist and non-profit groups have been created to engage the community in outdoor experiences. One such group is Chicago Wilderness, which promotes environmental conservation and outdoor recreation in the Chicago area.

Emilian Geczi, the youth and community engagement manager of Chicago Wilderness, believes that these groups have been successful in engaging the community in outdoor recreation.

“I think five years ago there were a lot of initiatives doing what we’re doing today and making our case important, which is probably why the recent numbers around outdoor recreation is higher,” the 35-year-old from Romania said.

Although outdoor participation rates are increasing, the demographics are still skewed, with 70 percent of participants identifying as Caucasian.

“Our research has found that minorities are vastly underrepresented in nature programs,” Geczi said. “There’s definitely room for improvement. We’re paying special attention to engaging more Latinos and African-Americans.”

Today is my first day of class, which means I’ve been on campus for more than a week now, and I’ve been away from home for more than two weeks. I should feel nervous, alone, and confused right? Wrong.

I feel excited to start school, I have a group of 12 people whom I can call my best friends, and I feel more confident about who I am than I ever have in my life. This is the result of an amazing adventure that I embarked on a week before move-in day; PWild, an 8-day backpacking trip with a group of 10 freshman and 2 counselors.

We took a 12 hour bus ride to the Lake Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota where we’d have to carry all of our belongings on our backs, cook our own meals, sleep on the hard uneven ground, and live without technology. When we stepped outside of the bus, it was pouring rain. We headed on the wrong trail and our counselors kept quiet until we were about a quarter mile up the trail because as they said, it was “our trip”. I hadn’t even been on the trail for an hour yet but I already hated it and wanted to go home.

That first day we mainly hiked in silence, listening to the sound of the rain falling on the leaves of the trees and went to sleep at around 6pm, before the sun even set, because what else was there to do in the wilderness?

The second day wasn’t much better, there was a lot of uphill that day but we took more breaks which allowed us to get to know each other better and took some weight off our backs (literally, since we took our backpacks off). That night, we stayed up later, built a campfire, and talked under our makeshift tarp. It wasn’t until that day that I finally learned the names of everyone in my group.

After that day, the rest of the trip was a breeze. The hikes seemed easier, we got used to our uncleanly state, and we were a lot more comfortable around each other. We’d developed inside jokes and nicknames for each other and felt like a family.

However, on the 5th day of the trip, I discovered a large, painful bump above my ankle as the result of a bug bite. I showed my counselors and they were forced to medically evacuate me, despite my efforts to convince them I was fine. Fortunately our site was close to a parking lot so I hiked for a mile and then we drove for about an hour to the nearest hospital, where the doctor amputated the bump and gave me a skeptical look when I asked him if I could return to the trail. He responded with “If that’s what you really want to do, sure, I guess.”

I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to return to the simplicity of life in the woods, the beauty of my natural surroundings, and of course, my friends. When I returned to the site, I was welcomed by a group of dirty campers screaming my name, smiles, and hugs. I couldn’t help but feel loved. I felt like I belonged, and that was a nice feeling.

We finished the rest of the trip with positive spirits, and did fun activities like telling life stories by the campfire, performing skits, doing solo/partner hikes, and more.

When the bus came on the 7th day, we were filled with mixed emotions as we embarked on our 12 hour journey back to Northwestern. That night, we slept on the campus’s beautiful (but cold) lakefill before we met our parents for move in. We had an early wake up call and ate breakfast shortly after the sun rose, and then went our separate ways to move into our dorms.

As an example of how close we got, we reunited later that night after what seemed like an eternity apart but was actually only 8 hours.

I am so thankful I participated in this program. It thought me to appreciate the simplicities and beauty of life instead of getting caught up in superficial masks. I met a group of people who know me better after a week than some friends who’ve known me for four years. As I start my freshman year of college, I feel more prepared and equipped than I ever would have if I didn’t spend a week in the woods.
Today is my first day of class, which means I’ve been on campus for more than a week now, and I’ve been away from home for more than two weeks. I should feel nervous, alone, and confused right? Wrong.
I feel excited to start school, I have a group of 12 people whom I can call my best friends, and I feel more confident about who I am than I ever have in my life. This is the result of an amazing adventure that I embarked on a week before move-in day; PWild, an 8-day backpacking trip with a group of 10 freshman and 2 counselors.
We took a 12 hour bus ride to the Lake Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota where we’d have to carry all of our belongings on our backs, cook our own meals, sleep on the hard uneven ground, and live without technology. When we stepped outside of the bus, it was pouring rain. We headed on the wrong trail and our counselors kept quiet until we were about a quarter mile up the trail because as they said, it was “our trip”. I hadn’t even been on the trail for an hour yet but I already hated it and wanted to go home.
That first day we mainly hiked in silence, listening to the sound of the rain falling on the leaves of the trees and went to sleep at around 6pm, before the sun even set, because what else was there to do in the wilderness?
The second day wasn’t much better, there was a lot of uphill that day but we took more breaks which allowed us to get to know each other better and took some weight off our backs (literally, since we took our backpacks off). That night, we stayed up later, built a campfire, and talked under our makeshift tarp. It wasn’t until that day that I finally learned the names of everyone in my group.
After that day, the rest of the trip was a breeze. The hikes seemed easier, we got used to our uncleanly state, and we were a lot more comfortable around each other. We’d developed inside jokes and nicknames for each other and felt like a family.
However, on the 5th day of the trip, I discovered a large, painful bump above my ankle as the result of a bug bite. I showed my counselors and they were forced to medically evacuate me, despite my efforts to convince them I was fine. Fortunately our site was close to a parking lot so I hiked for a mile and then we drove for about an hour to the nearest hospital, where the doctor amputated the bump and gave me a skeptical look when I asked him if I could return to the trail. He responded with “If that’s what you really want to do, sure, I guess.”
I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to return to the simplicity of life in the woods, the beauty of my natural surroundings, and of course, my friends. When I returned to the site, I was welcomed by a group of dirty campers screaming my name, smiles, and hugs. I couldn’t help but feel loved. I felt like I belonged, and that was a nice feeling.
We finished the rest of the trip with positive spirits, and did fun activities like telling life stories by the campfire, performing skits, doing solo/partner hikes, and more.
When the bus came on the 7th day, we were filled with mixed emotions as we embarked on our 12 hour journey back to Northwestern. That night, we slept on the campus’s beautiful (but cold) lakefill before we met our parents for move in. We had an early wake up call and ate breakfast shortly after the sun rose, and then went our separate ways to move into our dorms.
As an example of how close we got, we reunited later that night after what seemed like an eternity apart but was actually only 8 hours.
I am so thankful I participated in this program. It thought me to appreciate the simplicities and beauty of life instead of getting caught up in superficial masks. I met a group of people who know me better after a week than some friends who’ve known me for four years. As I start my freshman year of college, I feel more prepared and equipped than I ever would have if I didn’t spend a week in the woods.
40 More Hours.
In forty hours from this moment, I will be setting foot on this beautiful Northwestern campus (although it’ll be about 70 degrees warmer than it was at the time this picture was taken). I’m incredibly weary of leaving behind my friends, whom I know I can always share a laugh or heartfelt moment with, my family, whom I rely on frequently for comfort, and my other loved ones, who offer guidance and support on a day to day basis. I’ll miss my beloved music venues, In ‘N Out, beaches, and Mexican food, but I know I’ll be in good company and in an amazing environment.
It’s time to prepare for waiting outside Chicago venues in negative degree weather, stuffing my face with deep dish pizza, and studying the academic field where my dreams lie. 
Go ‘Cats! C/O 2017.

40 More Hours.

In forty hours from this moment, I will be setting foot on this beautiful Northwestern campus (although it’ll be about 70 degrees warmer than it was at the time this picture was taken). I’m incredibly weary of leaving behind my friends, whom I know I can always share a laugh or heartfelt moment with, my family, whom I rely on frequently for comfort, and my other loved ones, who offer guidance and support on a day to day basis. I’ll miss my beloved music venues, In ‘N Out, beaches, and Mexican food, but I know I’ll be in good company and in an amazing environment.

It’s time to prepare for waiting outside Chicago venues in negative degree weather, stuffing my face with deep dish pizza, and studying the academic field where my dreams lie. 

Go ‘Cats! C/O 2017.