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Recreational Geography

An Overview of Recreational Geography

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Dog Sled

Visitors to Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park can choose to participate in dog sled tours of the park's geography.

The Definition of Recreational Geography

Recreational geography is the study of how, where, and why people participate in recreation. Recreational geography takes many forms, from hiking a trail to canoeing a chain of lakes. These activities can be self-led or guided through a professional service.

People are often prompted to travel in pursuit of finding places to recreate. Therefore, recreational geography is tied to tourism, especially in protected areas and ecotourism destinations which are known for their recreational opportunities.

Motivations for recreational geography include the desire to explore unfamiliar places via a desired form of recreation (for example, rock climbing in a new area) and achieving personal goals (for example, reaching the summit of a mountain).

The History of Recreational Geography

Throughout time, people have been drawn to the act of recreational geography. It was common practice in Ancient Rome for wealthy people to travel to Naples' beaches for recreation and relaxation. The first person to offer guided recreational geography outings in the United States was naturalist Enos Mills. In the early 1900s, Mills facilitated tours of the land that would become Rocky Mountain National Park. Similarly, preservation advocate John Muir led people on tours of Yosemite National Park beginning in the late 1800s.

Examples of Recreational Geography in the United States

With its expansive National Park System, the United States offers many opportunities for recreational geography. Since automobiles became a common method of transportation in the first half of the 20th century, many Americans have been taking road trips to visit these parks. The goal of these trips can often be participating in recreation upon arrival at the destination. Recreation opportunities vary greatly by park. At Florida's Everglades National Park, visitors can explore the geography of the park's waterways via kayak. Visitors to Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park can choose to participate in dog sled tours of the park's geography.

Some people prefer to participate in extended recreational geography opportunities, such as hiking the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which stretches from Maine to Georgia and can take months or years to complete. Others may choose to take advantage of a portion of a designated recreation route, such as New York City's Greenways, which link communities and parks throughout the area via bicycle routes.

Examples of Recreational Geography in Europe

Europe's landscape of rolling hills, river valleys, mountains, and beaches afford many recreational geography opportunities. In Ireland, walking tours from town to town are popular; many companies offer interpretation of the physical and cultural landscape during the tour. Similarly, cycling tours through the countryside are common not only in Ireland but throughout Europe.

A big recreational geography draw in Europe is the marathon. People from all over the world flock to major European cities, such as Paris and Berlin, for their annual marathons. The birthplace of the marathon race, Greece, is also a popular destination for runners; the event is held in Athens. Some participants travel from country to country to participate in the races.

The Academic Study of Recreational Geography

The Association of American Geographers (AAG) is the leading organization devoted to the advancement of geography worldwide. The association sponsors many specialty groups for those interested in a particular area of study. One such faction is the Recreation, Tourism and Sport Specialty Group, which showcases research in recreational geography; they study why, how, and where people recreate. Each year, the group sponsors sessions at the AAG annual meeting where researchers can present their findings in recreational geography. Past sessions have included topics ranging from orienteering to geocaching to camping. Members of the Recreation, Tourism, and Sport Specialty Group are also active in contributing to the academic journal Tourism Geographies, which highlights the latest research in recreational geography.

The Future of Recreational Geography

As we continue to value and protect wild areas, opportunities for recreational geography will grow. In Washington State, the government is focusing their efforts on the development of new recreation areas and facilities which will become a part of recreational geography opportunities in the future. Other states, such as Connecticut and Arizona have created long-term plans to become bicycle- friendly destinations which will benefit those wishing to participate in that form of recreational geography.

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