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Auburn University professor leads national research efforts on health, access and participation in outdoor recreation

By March 18, 2024March 21st, 2024No Comments

 A research team led by an Auburn University scientist is working to develop an Outdoor Recreation Access and Participation Survey (ORAPS) that would fill a longstanding gap in outdoor recreation research.

“The idea for this project formed when I was working on the physical activity component of a CDC-funded county-level obesity project with Auburn Extension called ALProHealth (Alabama – Preventing and Reducing Obesity: Helping to Engage Alabamians for Long-Term Health). There was no data on how often or even if people were using their local parks, trails and bike paths,” said Wayde Morse, a professor of conservation social sciences in the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment.

Wayde Morse conducts a survey with a male park visitor

A research team led by Wayde Morse, an Auburn University professor of conservation social science in the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment, is working to develop a national recreation demand database to fill a longstanding gap in outdoor recreation research. Morse is shown on the left conducting a survey with a park visitor.

“Currently, no consistent, standardized and publicly available outdoor recreation participation database exists to address local health, accessibility and environmental conservation concerns or to effectively monitor national trends.”

The last public nationwide survey of recreation demand was the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, or NSRE, produced every five years beginning in the 1960s. It was updated to its most recent form in 1994 but then discontinued in 2014.

Working closely with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station and Oregon State University, Morse and his research team have first focused on building survey question modules, developing an updated methodological approach and conducting an end-user needs assessment.

The ORAPS would use a standardized and rigorous multi-scale approach to collect county-level detail intended to address issues of health and accessibility. This data could then be scaled to identify and understand state and national-level activity and participation trends applicable to land managers and industry.

They are also testing pilot projects in Oregon and Alabama to explore how the data could be used for Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans (SCORPs) to ensure compatible data and increase efficiency in data collection efforts.

The team hopes to create a national recreation demand database to be a publicly accessible online inventory for managers, researchers and the industry to address the issues most important to them.

“We believe a collaborative systems approach would better link local recreation supply and demand opportunities, assess recreation with health and accessibility data and gauge public demand for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services on recreation lands,” said Morse.

“A national database would facilitate recreation management, promote conservation, health and accessibility and provide a more holistic understanding of the many ways recreation lands contribute to our well-being,” said Janaki Alavalapati, the Emmett F. Thompson Dean of the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment.

“Morse and his team are leading national discussions on outdoor recreation demand and accessibility to build coalitions that will actively work toward improving our collective quality of life.”

Morse recently presented a webinar on the topic to the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals (SORP), the nation’s top professional association for outdoor recreation. With funding from the U.S. Forest Service, Morse and his team will be conducting workshops with various federal agencies and academic institutions throughout 2024 to build collaboration and consensus on data needs for the future of recreation planning and equitable access.

Auburn University’s College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment recently launched the state’s first parks and recreation management undergraduate degree program to prepare students to lead an increasingly recognized industry vital to well-being, community growth and inclusivity.

With coursework on health and access, the program hopes to address these issues specific to Alabama but applicable to many areas nationwide. One of the ways they tried to answer that question is the addition of a concentration in community park and recreation management, a unique feature among comparable programs.

To learn more about the degree, visit or email

(Written by Jessica Nelson)

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