One thing I learned in municipal recreation is that so many passionate, hard-working people are willing to give up so much of their time and energy to create these meaningful events often with little response from the public. I've known volunteers, who after working the same long hours during the week, jump up with the sun on Saturday to devote their day to coaching children, cleaning trails, teaching new skills and ultimately making the outdoors a more familiar place for the next generation. But what happens when no one shows up? How is it that so much time can go into planning and yet, the most important piece is missing?
I have spent years thinking about this and it can all be boiled down to two things.
1) Event Organizers are all on the same team, but not on the same page -
When you drive down Main St. and see 14 different signs stuck in the ground at a stop light promoting 5 pancake breakfasts, 2 benefit dinners, a chinese auction, 2 benefit dances, a high school athletics car wash, etc, etc, etc... what you're really seeing is a big mess of competition, all righteous in their cause but stomping out each others chance for success.
The same goes for large scale events. Yes, I know, I've heard it a million times, "There are only so many weekends in a year". I understand this, and things will overlap, but one thing that never seems to overlap is the effort to work together on promoting these events. If three of these events (say an auction, dinner & dance) were all tied together into one event you would greater your chances of being seen by more people, including those that may not be aware of your cause AND the three organizations could split what was taken at the door. Because ultimately they would have been splitting up those people anyway, but I digress. Make the extra effort to connect with other local events that way your event isn't the tree falling in the woods.
2) It's not the 1950's, people would rather watch Honey Boo Boo or The Kardashian's than go to a county fair -
It really takes a lot to get people to do stuff now. Why get dressed and go out into the world on a Saturday morning and do something physical when you can lounge on the couch in your pj's and play candy crush? If I had a nickel for everytime I spent months promoting an event and then later saw someone at the grocery store that said they didn't know about it... (insert "a lot of nickels* punchline here). The vast majority of people are not willing to look for these types of events, they're a different generation. They are not the type to go to a VFW hall at 6:30 on a Saturday morning to sip coffee and chat for 3 hours. They want to just barely catch McDonald's breakfast at 10:28.
So how is something as awesome as the "Great Maine Outdoor Weekend", which just so happens to also land on "National Public Lands Day", not the most talked about event in Maine right now? It hasn't made the social media connection with the right people. The people that are out, right now, having the time of their lives with their friends and families at a campsite, or a trail, didn't learn about this event online. These people had it marked on their calendars from last year, you don't need to sell them on the concept, they're first in line. But if you want to reach that family that has never paddled a canoe, or pitched their own tent you need to connect with them their way.
Sites like Facebook are becoming wastelands for content, an endless scroll of jumbled nonsense. But I see hope in more simplified sites like instagram, where the content is the star. Posting an image of a campfire, or a fall hike is more likely to start a conversation and catch the eye there than on the sites where only the most extreme posts catch the viewers attention.
I don't know what the answer is but I'm hopeful that these hard-working volunteers, organizers and all around recreation entusiasts will continue the good fight.