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Parks and Recreation Partnership Bringing 10 Million Kids to Nature and the Outdoors

2012-11-01, Department, by Richard J. Dolesh

NRPA and NWF are partnering to bring 10 million kids to nature and the outdoors.In partnership with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), NRPA has launched a truly ambitious goal: To connect 10 million kids to nature and the outdoors in the next three years. And this goal is not just to count what we are already doing to connect kids to nature and the outdoors—it is about increasing the time kids spend outdoors by 90 minutes per week, and getting kids who aren’t already spending time outdoors to make this part of their regular routine.

This initiative came about through a convergence of factors. A year ago, the NRPA-commissioned Conservation Task Force noted that one of the greatest conservation challenges at the community level was to reconnect kids with nature and outdoors. One of their top recommendations was for parks and recreation to commit to fostering the next generation of environmental stewards.

The report of the Conservation Task Force caught the eye of the National Wildlife Federation, which was also considering a major initiative to focus on this very issue. Formed more than 75 years ago with the purpose of mobilizing citizens to protect threatened wetlands in the southeastern U.S., NWF has grown to be the largest grassroots conservation organization in America with more than 4 million supporters and 47 affiliates.

NWF and NRPA senior staff began to discuss how our two organizations might collaborate on this emerging initiative. Just as many park and recreation advocates have become concerned about the trends that are leading kids away from parks and outdoor activities, NWF also recognized the profound consequences to the cause of conservation and public lands if a generation of kids suddenly loses touch with nature and the outdoors. But on the positive side, we know the tremendous benefits that kids gain from spending time outdoors—better physical and mental health, a more positive outlook on the future, even immunological benefits to prevent disease.

And let there be no confusion about the trends.  The numbers are staggering. A noted research study by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that kids are spending more than 7.5 hours per day behind screens of one kind or another, and a similar study notes that kids today spend just four to seven minutes per day in outdoor free play.

Grim as it may sound, there is hope. A nationwide movement, initially inspired by Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, is responding to this threat to our youths’ future. The purpose of this movement is to restore the essential bonds of children to nature, and to give kids the opportunity to spend more time learning, playing, and exploring in our natural outdoor world.

NWF and NRPA have taken up the challenge to enable kids to have more time outdoors. While NWF has a large scope of interest in this initiative, including efforts to engage parents, schools, and policymakers, they have determined that public parks and recreation are the best means of connecting kids to nature and the outdoors, and that NRPA was the best choice as their primary national partner.

So what can you do as a park professional or citizen advocate to support this effort? First, you can sign up your agency as being in support of the “10 Million Kids Outdoors” initiative simply by going to www.nrpa.org/10MillionKidsOutdoors and completing the registration form. Over the coming months, NRPA and NWF will be making tools, resources, and information available to participating park and recreation agencies. Our goal is to gain the commitment of 1,000 park and recreation agencies in support of this effort. Each supporting agency will be asked to record information on how many new kids they are connecting to nature and the outdoors, and how much additional time they estimate kids are spending doing so over the next three years.

Second, you can share information on what you are doing to bring more kids to nature and the outdoors and to engage them for more time every week. We are looking for tried-and-true ways that are successful as well as innovative ways that push the envelope.  From the traditional nature hike to the highly creative app or GPS-based activity, we want to share information on your success stories and best practices; we want to develop national models for success.

Third, we need you to enlist the public in this effort—we want to let parents, kids, and nonprofit organizations know, and we are asking that you bring citizens, advocates, and new partners to join in.

Connecting 10 million kids to nature and the outdoors—that will be no small achievement, but it is a challenge we can and must take on. Won’t you join in?

To sign your agency or department on in support of the 10 Million Kids initiative, go to www.nrpa.org/10MillionKidsOutdoors.

 

Richard J. Dolesh is NRPA’s Vice President of Conservation and Parks (rdolesh@nrpa.org). 

 

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Gayle Swagerty


I live in Coulee Dam, WA at the base of the Grand Coulee Dam located on the Columbia River. I am a member of the NWF. In my town is a park maintained by the town which has a large open green space, a dry creek bed full of a diversity of flora and fauna,and a flowing creek at the top of this area. Behind this park adjacent to it is a naturalized area and a hiking trail which leads up over a large rock outcropping and back down to the town. I have just recently been elected to serve on my town council and will be sworn in January. I am planning to propose to the council and mayor that we register this park with your program. Can we register as a town? Are there fees involved? Can we register as a town? Are there fees involved? What resources are available to implement the programs? Anymore information would be very useful as I prepare to make this proposal.