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The American people this week were presented with a portrait of themselves such as they have never had before. For the first time they were pictured in the kaleidoscopic variety of their sport-filled outdoor world. This week, in fact, a new scientific discipline was born—a discipline to which this magazine, in a prophetic series two years ago, gave the name "social conservation"; the study of the recreational needs of the 180 million Americans now populating this country and of the millions yet to come.
The man responsible for this important new look at America is Laurance Rockefeller, third oldest of the five Rockefeller brothers. Inheritor of his father's pioneering role in conservation, Rockefeller on Sept. 15, 1958 was appointed by President Eisenhower to head up the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission and provide the answers to three basic questions:
1) What are the recreation needs of the American people now and what will they be in the years 1976 and 2000?
2) What are the recreation resources available to fill those needs now and in the years 1976 and 2000?
3) What policies and programs should be recommended to make sure that the needs of the present and future are adequately and efficiently met?
President Kennedy, reportedly readying a $2.5 billion, eight-year conservation and recreation program for presentation to Congress on February 21, received those answers in a report from the Rockefeller Commission—a report that in its final form will be backed up by 26 specific studies and will add up to almost 5,000 pages of thorough detail.
The ORRRC report is certain to be a matter of violent controversy for years. In a field where passions are aroused easily, it favors no one and will certainly please no one wholly. Yet its recommendations were accepted unanimously—in itself a notable achievement—by the ORRRC group, whose professional commitments range from the lumber industry to politics. Its statistics are based on three years of surveying the U.S. and questioning its inhabitants, urban, suburban and rural. While its conclusions may be argued, its facts are established. Some of them are startling reversals of hitherto popular beliefs:
?Americans may be a nation of drivers but they are a nation of walkers as well—walking for pleasure ranks second (behind driving) in the report's list of outdoor activities.
?The flabby teen-ager would seem to be more sociological myth than reality—12-to-17-year-olds are the most active group in America, with swimming at the top of their list, walking for pleasure and bicycling next in line.
?There is more open country available for outdoor recreation in the U.S. than was heretofore supposed—one-eighth of the country (283 million acres) has already been set aside for public recreation, and uncounted millions more of private land are in constant use.