The Outdoors Needs More Stewards, Finds New Report from onX

The outdoor navigation company’s research reveals the state of outdoor experiences amid the recreation boom.

Unparalleled participation in outdoor recreation is changing our collective outdoor experience, cites a new report released today by onX, a pioneer in outdoor navigation. The report, Breaking Trails, details the state of the outdoor experience as described by 2,200 recreationists across the U.S. and reveals a substantial gap between an increasing number of outdoor enthusiasts and the percentage of those who engage in stewardship–activities that help protect and restore the public lands that fuel their experiences. While 77% of outdoor recreationists head outside 12 or more times each year, only 19% engage in acts of stewardship in that same timeframe, the report shows. As a result, deteriorating outdoor experiences are on the rise.

“Participation in outdoor recreation is at an all-time high, and that’s a good thing,” said onX Senior Access and Stewardship Manager Becky Marcelliano. “We believe that everyone should have access to nature, and the mental and physical benefits it provides. But we also realize that increased recreation means additional pressure on our public lands. And while most of us see the importance of stewardship, only a handful of folks–less than one-in-five–are doing the lion’s share of the work.”

This “stewardship gap” is one of the primary themes highlighted in the Breaking Trails report, which details the results of a survey conducted in late 2022 by the team at onX in partnership with Southwick Associates, a recreation-focused research firm. Through the survey, the company aimed to better understand how increased participation in outdoor recreation has impacted the nation’s public lands and the experiences they provide.

Key findings from the report include:

  • 96% of outdoor enthusiasts think it’s important to preserve and maintain public lands and the access to recreation that they provide.
  • Nearly all (92%) rely on the nation’s 901 billion acres of public land for outdoor recreation.
  • Nearly two-thirds note that overcrowding has negatively impacted their time in nature over the past five years, citing various challenges from packed trailheads and noise pollution to litter and decreased access. 
  • 87% of outdoor enthusiasts report that they have given back to public lands in some way in the last decade.
  • However, only 19% of outdoor enthusiasts surveyed say they commit to one of these primary stewardship activities on an annual basis: volunteering, donating, or advocating.

Digging further into the breakdown of those who are engaging in stewardship each year, the survey found the following trends:

  • Younger generations are more likely to participate in stewardship activities than their older counterparts, with Gen Z being the most inclined.
  • Exposure to nature early in life correlates to participating in stewardship activities as an adult.
  • The more outdoor activities someone participates in, the more likely they are to give back.
  • Those who identify as experts in at least one outdoor activity are two to three times more likely to engage in annual stewardship compared to those who describe themselves as beginners or intermediates across all their outdoor activities.

Read the Breaking Trails report for an in depth analysis of all the survey findings.

Promoting Growth in Stewardship

While the report reveals a disparity in stewardship, it also proposes a solution. According to Breaking Trails, one of the best ways to “close the gap” in stewardship–especially between experienced stewards and those just embarking on their outdoor journey–is through outdoor mentorship. 

“The goal is to encourage more outdoor adventurers to embrace stewardship as a personal responsibility,” said Marcelliano. “By mentoring other outdoor enthusiasts, we can inspire a cultural shift from being a ‘user’ and ‘visitor’ of the outdoors to becoming a ‘protector’ and ‘steward.’ That is where the real change happens.”

Beginning on June 8, onX is encouraging all adventurers to engage in stewardship through its Navigating Stewardship campaign. Outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds are encouraged to tune into onX channels to learn different stewardship practices–big and small, explore different stewardship communities, test their outdoor knowledge, join a social challenge, and hear from Griffin Post, Jeremy Evans, and Jana Waller during a live virtual event. These three onX ambassadors will talk about how they incorporate stewardship practices into their outdoor pursuits, from backcountry skiing and mountaineering to offroading and hunting. Stay tuned to for more details.

In an ongoing effort to help steward public lands, onX also devotes a portion of its sales every year to secure and protect public access. Through its Access and Stewardship Grant Program, the company endeavors to help secure or improve public access to 150,000 acres, and to help restore, secure, or build 150 miles of trails. onX is currently accepting applications for its next round of grant funding, which is open through July 7, 2023.

About onX

Founded in 2009, onX is a pioneer in digital outdoor navigation, developing software that helps inform, inspire, and empower outdoor recreationists. onX Backcountry, onX Offroad, and onX Hunt make up the company’s suite of apps, and are built by explorers for explorers. Because off-the-beaten-path experiences are at the heart of what onX does, the company also leads initiatives to protect and expand access to public land. Since 2017, onX has worked with various partners to secure and improve public land access through direct funding, and by supporting key legislation with data analysis and research. Learn more:


Molly Stoecklein

Growing up in the east, Molly’s first claim to fame was a 1998 New York State Ski Ballet Championship title. Since, she’s never lived far from the mountains and now calls Bozeman home. When she’s not heading up PR and Communications for onX, she’s out exploring on skis or bike, or with fly rod in hand.