In an effort to build a love for outdoor activity in youth and involve the community and families, the Outdoor Industry Association started a partnership this week with National Geographic's GeoTrips educational program for grades 4-8.
The program will reach schools in 28 markets, and schools will find out about the area trips and how they can participate by going to local outdoor retailers.
"It drives local consumers to the retailers to find out about the program," said OIA President Frank Hugelmeyer. GeoTrips "gets them outside the classroom and into the wild environment."
The type of "trip" and how "wild" it is will depend on the location of a school and its resources, but they will always involve outdoor education.
Kicking off a public outreach program, the GeoTrips partnership will run through 2003 and, Hugelmeyer said, will be considered a test for driving more consumers to outdoor retailers, building awareness and encouraging the public into the outdoors.
"All of 2003 is about testing," Hugelmeyer said. "We have to be able to pull back and redirect if we see something not working."
For 2004, the outreach efforts could take many directions, not only based on what seems to be working, but also on the amount of money the association receives in grants and donations to fund additional programs.
"2003 is about setting ourselves up for success," he said. "2004 is the launch."
Already, the group has a commitment of $10,000 from both JanSport and The North Face for the remainder of 2002 and 2003 (a total of $20,000 each), and REI has donated $45,000 toward startup efforts. Outdoor Retailer has said it would match any grants up to a total of $275,000.
"The industry needs to know we are all in an investment mode," said Hugelmeyer, who said the goal is a $500,000 annual budget. "Everybody needs to be a part, and every little bit counts."
For more information about GeoTrips, click here.
SNEWS® View: In May, the association discussed an entirely different direction that involved fewer markets, but ties to retailers and perhaps working with health clubs and their membership as a way to target people who already had some interest in fitness and get them interested in also exploring the outdoors as part of that fitness program (see our story by clicking here)
Certainly encouraging youth to experience outdoor adventures is a great way to perhaps find more devotees. We believe, however, that tapping into adults of all ages who already show an interest in being fit and active (health club members and showing them where to get gear, what to get, and where to go outdoors is a key direction that shouldn't be missed. It's all about education and tying retailers into area clubs and OIA is missing that boat. It's clear, too, from research that adults can have a huge impact on youth, so if we impact adults who can quickly get excited about outdoor activity, we have already developed a huge educational network that will then reach out to its youth as mentors of sorts and plant the seed in a new generation.
We're also highly skeptical whether the program OIA is putting its shoulder behind and the industry dollars in support of will really do much, if anything, to grow the market. SNEWS® has been and continues to be intimately involved with numerous youth programs that are designed to get kids outdoors. We are also keenly aware of numerous programs around the country through existing school districts typically tied to science programs that get kids outdoors and send them shopping for gear at local retailers on a regular basis. And yet the market continues to demonstrate that youth aren't interested. Why? Today's youth continue to have too many distractions and that is not going to change unless we can inspire adult mentors, parents, coaches, athletes and more to head outdoors with kids not just through special programs, but as a part of life. Hmmmm, like perhaps PE programs centered on trail running, canoeing, kayaking, skiing, hiking, and the like. Gee, there's that fitness angle again. Schools loooove programming and guest instructors, especially if they don't have to pay for them.
Let's see … headlines about obesity and the need to get our youth more fit are a daily fact of life over the last few months, including again in the last couple of weeks. In 2001, a top CDC official told the industry that outdoors could become a fitness initiative that the CDC could get behind if we would find a way to energize such a program. At this year's Rendezvous in April, attendees heard about going after "low-hanging fruit" as potential outdoor participants -- as if health club or fitness enthusiasts aren't low-hanging enough? And the presidential fitness initiative was pressed hard by Bush only recently, although it doesn't have any dollars behind it yet, it does have some clout -- great for name-dropping. Despite all that, we continue to be told that OIA is not interested in pursuing a fitness connection right now, that it'll take more dollars and more energy than the group has, and that retailers aren't necessarily ready to support the concept. Why no interest in the fitness connection? We at SNEWS® have no idea. It seems like a no-brainer to us.