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The continued success of the Southern Illinois Celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Days is hopeful.

Of course, in a hunting and fishing hotbed like Southern Illinois, it stands to reason a two-day celebration of the outdoors would be a popular event. Despite the inherent bias toward outdoors pursuits in the region, the size and make-up of the crowds are encouraging.

There is no question the hunting population is shrinking … and graying. And, fishing is becoming an increasingly expensive pursuit.

Despite those realities, it was hardly a senior citizen crowd that traveled to John A. Logan College last weekend. Oh, there were plenty of my contemporaries in the crowd, but there were good numbers of young men and women, lots of teens and, of course, lots of children.

And, although it is totally anecdotal, it appears the crowds are becoming more ethnically diverse as well. All of those factors are important.

With the popularity of electronic devices, kids are spending more and more time inside. The National Recreation and Parks Association says the average American child spends just 4-7 minutes outdoors engaging in unsupervised play every day.

At the same time, kids are logged on, tuned in or plugged into electronic media an average of 7.5 hours per day. That is a stunning imbalance.

There is no easy fix.

The world has changed since I was a kid. When we weren’t trying to make a buck baling hay or performing other menial tasks, we played baseball, whiffle ball or rode our bikes to the creek to catch catfish nearly every day.

It’s not that we were better or smarter than the kids of today. Had there been widespread air conditioning and video games, we would have probably holed up inside as well. But, we didn’t and many of us learned to appreciate the beauty of nature and joys of spending a lazy afternoon on a shady creek bed.

Without a doubt, older generations have, wittingly or unwittingly, become part of the problem. Many parents work more than one job to make ends meet. They don’t have time to introduce their kids to outdoor pursuits.

And, society has also changed.

My parents were perfectly fine with us hopping on our bikes, riding to town and spending the afternoon playing baseball. It was just a safer, simpler time. It wasn’t that there were no dangerous characters lurking about, but fewer people were working 24/7. People who lived near the ballpark we played at frequently sat on their porches to watch our informal games.

The rising costs of recreation also plays a role.

There were 48 teams, a record, entered in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge High School Bass Classic this weekend. The participation is growing each year.

However, bass fishing has become prohibitively expensive. Rods and reels are more expensive than ever. The price of baits climbs higher all the time. And, to be a competitive bass angler requires a mountainous investment for a boat and truck.

Yet, the increased participation is hopeful. Even if the young anglers don’t pursue fishing beyond high school, they are being exposed to the beauty and grandeur of nature. And, getting people enthused about the outdoors should be the primary goal.

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LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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