Get outside! Reconnecting youth to nature

Kids hiking

“The thing that surprised me the most is how really connected I became to the North Cascades. How deeply I began to care about my surroundings being there for a whole month. It was all a new experience for me,” said Laura Humes, a 16 year old who lives in Seattle, Washington and took part in a month-long study program at North Cascades National Park last summer.

Yesterday afternoon, Laura, along with over a hundred other youths, talked to the Obama Administration officials about their outdoor experiences and shared how they would get more people, especially kids, outside. The afternoon “listening session” was part of America’s Great Outdoors, an effort to hear Americans’ best ideas for connecting people with nature and learn what should be included in a new conservation strategy for the 21st century.

Laura Humes had never really hiked or camped before last summer, but applied to the experiential learning program on a whim because it “sounded interesting.”

“Kids are definitely more plugged in to technology these days. My school even checks out laptops to every student. It helps education-wise, but you also need to get out there and experience things first-hand. People need to get out there, get hands-on experience and connect to nature personally.”

Inspired by the month-long summer program hosted by North Cascades Institute and North Cascades National Park, Laura went home to Seattle and passed along what she'd learned by organizing a nature field trip for younger kids.

“Five of us from the Seattle area got together to create school curriculum about the environment. We gathered fifth and sixth graders and took them to a local park for an all day, hands-on learning experience. We did short hikes, planted trees and learned about composting – got them really excited about learning outside – it was definitely worthwhile for them. The teachers continue to use our materials!”

And what recommendation did Laura make to the Obama Administration during yesterday’s special youth forum?

“Have more events in parks – from concerts to clean ups to day hikes with rangers – just getting people out there. Once they are out there, they will connect with nature, grow to appreciate it more and become stewards – they’ll want to take care of our public lands.”

I sure hope that the Obama officials were listening.

Make your voice heard! Share your best ideas to get people better connected to our special wild places with President Obama.