Guest blog: Why getting kids outdoors matters to the future of wildlands

Author at six months old with her mother on Oregon Coast.

Courtesy of author

Our friend Abbey Dufoe, an environmental journalism grad student, explains how adults can help shape future conservationists.

By Abbey Dufoe

The first three years of my life were spent in a hiking carrier.

At three months old, I sat on the summit of Mount Diablo, California in my diaper. At six months old, I twirled my mom’s hair while she hiked along the Oregon Coast. Nine months old: Vancouver Island. One year old: Arapaho National Forest, Colorado. Two years old: the Adirondacks, New York. Three years old: California Redwoods.

You get the picture. In my formative years, I was surrounded by the salty scent of the ocean, the calm of trees as high as skyscrapers, and vistas as far as my little eyes could see. It was even more fun to explore when my three siblings joined the party.

Taking your kids outside is one way to foster the love for Earth that my siblings and I have. Even though we grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, we always found a way to get outside.

Abbey Dufoe's first solo hike was to Brainard Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness. (photo courtesy of author)

"Taking your kids outside is one way to foster the love for Earth that my siblings and I have."

Not all Americans have had the great outdoor opportunities I’ve had, especially many urban dwellers. However, it’s important to the future of conservation that more of them do have these experiences, which are also good for their well-being! Nothing beats fresh air, yet American kids are spending less and less time in the outdoors, and some, especially in our nation’s inner cities aren’t getting out there at all.

It’s a disturbing trend, but many child-focused conservation programs can help. And in getting our kids outside, they can also inspire the next generation to save the places we know and love while enjoying the outdoors.

The Wilderness Society promotes getting kids outdoors, too. Great Outdoors America Week (GO Week) in Washington D.C. is a summer celebration of the outdoors by many conservation groups that provide outdoor activities for kids. Part of this celebration includes bringing together organizations, activists, lawmakers and administrators to show how important outdoor activities are to the American public.

"It’s important to the future of conservation that more [kids] have these experiences."

The Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) is another program The Wilderness Society partners with, focusing on connecting children, youth and families with the great outdoors. Through the pillars of education, community heath and wellness, and environmental stewardship, OAK hopes to foster an appreciation for the outdoors in children from urban centers and mountain towns alike.

The San Gabriel Mountains Leadership Academy is another project supported by the Wilderness Society aimed at getting kids outside. Citizens work on project proposals to better the Angeles National Forest, part of which is the newly designated the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. When youth in the community enter a proposal, they are supported by the San Gabriel Mountains Forever group in executing new ideas on how to get more people recreating in the forest, which is a short drive from Los Angeles and San Bernardino.

Abbey, left, and her father and brother on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia. (photo courtesy of Abbey Dufoe)

Thanks to the outdoor influence from my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, I am studying to be an environmental journalist. I hike on the weekends in Montana and travel monthly to see more wild places. Thanks to my parents, the West pulled me to the Rockies: the tall trees, vast mountains and rushing water becoming my outdoor playground.

I have pulled leeches out from between my toes in Iowa, sand boarded in Colorado, scrambled along red rocks in Nevada, and hugged trees in California. I have experienced the United States in the most unique and outdoor way I could have ever imagined, thanks to the influence of my parents.

The wilderness is ours. I’m not a parent, but I know plenty of them. Take your kids outside! These places are protected for us to use and enjoy. Don’t know where to even begin? Check out this map to search for wild places near you.


Abbey Dufoe is an environmental journalism graduate student at the University of Montana. Abbey is originally from the Philadelphia suburbs, but has fallen in love with the Rockies and never intends to leave. Don’t ask her what her favorite outdoor spot is – she wouldn’t be able to pick.