In troubled times, nature a release valve

ON THE OUTDOORS

Outdoors

November 11, 2001|By CANDUS THOMSON

Get out.

We have bikes to peddle, walks to take, birds to view. There's wood to stack, boats to winterize, blinds to scout.

It's supposed to be a pretty day in the middle of what is, for some, a long holiday weekend (Or at least that's what the weather-guesser said Friday).

You get the idea.

It's been two months since the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, and folks are still trying to find a rhythm. A fellow outdoors writer pointed out that foliage season came and went last month with scarcely a mention. Halloween candy morphed into Christmas candy on the supermarket shelves, and now Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

If we can have comfort foods for our times of stress, we should have comfort activities, too. The outdoors may be as recession-proof and terrorist-resistant as anything can be these days.

"When the economy is crazy or something bad is going on, people tend to go back home and take stock," said Holly Van Fleet, manager of the REI store in College Park. "The outdoors reminds us of what is good."

Several surveys taken since Sept. 11 seem to back her up.

According to a poll taken in mid-October by R.T. Neilson Co. for REI, nine out of 10 Americans believe that spending time outdoors is important and that time spent outdoors lifts their spirits. Seventy-one percent of respondents said outdoor activities relieve stress better than indoor ones.

The poll involved 1,000 adults in all 50 states.

Mike Foley, a spokesman for REI, said the company commissioned the poll in part as a reaction to other polls that showed Americans were reluctant to travel.

"We wanted to know what they will be doing -- not what they won't be doing," he said in a telephone interview from the company's Seattle headquarters.

Foley pointed to another figure he found significant: 75 percent of those polled consider outdoor activities a good way to build family ties.

"That's a pretty easy statement to agree with, but the poll was not just taken in the outdoors community. It was a broad survey of random households," he said. "I was surprised to see such a strong response. It's not too much of a step to say that it will translate into more participation."

Already, REI is seeing increased attendance at its clinics and community service projects.

Will that lead to an increase in holiday sales?

"We really don't know," Foley said. "We're seeing steady sales in basic supplies, but perhaps people will hold off on big-ticket purchases."

A report released this month from an outdoor industry group shows preliminary sales figures for September increased 3.3 percent over August totals.

Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association, was quick to note that some of the increase might have been purchases of supplies for relief efforts.

Still, he said, he expects to see healthy sales as families spend more time together and choose vacations closer to home.

"People right now need a little fun in their lives. The outdoors is a safe place for the family and refreshing both physically and spiritually," he said.

It doesn't hurt from a promotional standpoint that TV commercials hawking everything from vehicles to soft drinks show people outdoors.

"Right now, the great outdoors is the darling of Madison Avenue," Hugelmeyer said. "And we have a history of being recession-proof."

So what are people buying?

Camping supplies, new hiking boots, bike accessories (although not necessarily bikes), skiing stuff, "and the kind of gear people started buying pre-Y2K has been revived," said Lori Crabtree, a spokeswoman for Outdoor Retailer, which runs two trade shows each year.

Said Van Fleet: "People will be more discerning on the big stuff -- kayaks and electronics -- but that still leaves a lot of good stuff."

If you're looking for a place to play with the good stuff, consider the results of a poll by Leisure Trends Group taken between Sept. 21 and Oct. 6. Asked to rate the safest weekend and vacation destinations, respondents ranked mountain resorts and national parks highest and theme parks and cruise ships lowest.

Keep out

One place folks won't be going anytime soon is the Savage River Reservoir.

The Maryland Department of the Environment is closing access to the Garrett County lake because of safety concerns.

Motion sensors, lighting and fencing are being installed and patrols have been increased.

MDE sent letters to "high-hazard dams," including those at Deep Creek Lake and the Jennings Randolph Reservoir, reminding operators to review security plans.

The state says it will reopen access once it determines things are back to normal, whatever that is.

The 360-acre reservoir, created in the late 1930s, is a fine place to fish and canoe. The state-record rainbow trout -- 14 pounds, 3 ounces -- was caught there in 1987.

So, if you'd been planning a trip to one of those reservoirs, what can you do instead?

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