Friday, August 07, 2015

State parks trying to get youth to put down their cell phones and explore the outdoors

Concerned that too many young Americans are too connected to technology and too disconnected from nature, state parks have begun initiating programs to attempt to get youth interested in the outdoors, Jenni Bergal reports for Stateline. "States such as Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico and North Carolina are sponsoring camping trips, running conservation programs or organizing outdoor classrooms where students can learn about wildlife and ecology." (Bergal photo: teens remove invasive species from trees at Seneca Creek State Park in Maryland)

"Thirteen governors have hosted campouts for youngsters and their families this summer in state or municipal parks or on the grounds of the statehouse or governor’s residence, as part of Capital Campouts, a joint public-private program," Bergal writes. "The goal is twofold: to encourage youth to be more active at a time childhood obesity rates are climbing and to build younger Americans’ appreciation for nature, making it more likely they will support the parks and conservation for decades to come."

Lewis Ledford, executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors, told Bergal, "Young people need to have a healthy lifestyle and truly experience the nature of the world and not some virtual reality through a gaming device. Smelling the fresh air, understanding the stars at night, knowing about the life cycles of ecology—this is important for the stewardship of future generations and is vital in conserving and protecting our natural resources.”

There are more than 5,000 state parks in the U.S., accounting for 221,000 campsites and 8,000 cabins, Bergal writes. More than 700 million people visit state parks each year—two-thirds bring children—but parks officials "say children who grow up in households that don’t visit parks as a family tradition are less likely to visit parks as adults."

Nita Settina, superintendent for the Maryland Park Service, told Bergal, “If our future leaders have no relationship to nature, no understanding of how clean air and clean water are produced and what a healthy environment is, they won’t have the knowledge, nor will they care about, doing anything about the stewardship of the earth. That’s why we need to provide children with adventures and fun—so they become park visitors and will someday expose their children to those places.” (Read more)

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