Most New Zealand tramping clubs are dominated by the middle aged and older. In many it's becoming a rare event for any new young face to stick around for their second trip.
In some clubs people are starting to see a potential problem in this.
The recent annual conference of the Federated Mountain Clubs, in Christchurch, discussed these concerns in a workshop. Two members of the FMC executive spoke to the media about it afterwards.
Richard Wesley, paid executive officer of the NZ Alpine Club, believed it was not an issue. He was reported as being more impressed that older members had a higher disposable income so it was easier to get money from them.
However I understand in recent years the NZAC has moved to operate more like a business model which has 'clients' and 'subscribers' rather than members, so perhaps the voluntary participation of an 'active membership' isn't so important to them. And besides, as far as I know, the NZAC doesn't represent trampers.
John Wilson, outgoing president of the FMC and long term member of the Waikato Tramping Club, sees it differently. He remembers when most people joining tramping clubs were in their teens or twenties. Today any newcomers who do stick around tend to be nearer their fifties already.
No doubt John recognises the pattern we're seeing everywhere of tramping club membership stagnating and the average age of faces on trips older by the year. This not only results in declining energy and enthusiasm for voluntary efforts, but also affects the types of trips clubs can run
I've heard various suggestions trying to account for the lack of interest in club tramping among the young. However I believe the truth is that clubs have made tramping appear boring, and club cultures are often quite antipathetic toward youthful behaviours.
My evidence? I saw it when I joined a trip to Carkeek Hut in the Tararuas with the Victoria University club, the VUWTC. That trip had more of the elements of excitement and adventure, but combined with mutual support and respect than I thought was possible with club tramping.
The university club in Canterbury, the CUTC, seems to have a similar style of enthusiasm in its tramping, an unmistakeably youthful approach sadly missing from the old-fart TCs.
So I see a tramping style in the overwhelmingly young university clubs that's quite distinct from clubs with an older membership. And it seems much more enjoyable.
Now the cure. If you really want to rejuvenate your tramping club, beg some young people to help out on the committee. Then listen to them, let them make changes and run the show despite your fears. And because young people often tend to defer to their elders, too much for our own good, it might even be worth removing the speaking and voting rights from anyone on the committee who's over 30, just to make sure you get the benefit. ;-)