Help wildlands this Earth Day! Tip #8: Support programs that teach urban youth

The kids from Bryant Way Learning Center listen as Lost River Cave’s Annie Holt explains how caterpillars turn into butterflies.

From now until Earth Day, we invite you to read our daily staff tips on how you can make a difference for wildlands.

My Earth Day tip is not just advice, it is a challenge: Get kids without backyards into nature.

I mean, submerge them in it; take them away from the blacktops of parking lots, and show them a place where they can’t see the sky because of all the trees.

Last summer, I was giving tours at Lost River Cave and Valley in Bowling Green Kentucky when I realized how crucial this tip is. A group of kids from the grant-funded afterschool program called Bryant Way Learning Center came to the valley for a rare afternoon field trip. Rare because they have little funding to go anywhere, according to Susan Harper, the site supervisor.

Previous Tips

Tip 1: Speak up for our nation's forests.

Tip 2: Leave no trace when visiting your favorite places

Tip 3: How to weigh in on conservation decisions

Tip 4: Connect kids with nature

Tip 5: Leave no canine trace

Tip 6: Volunteer on the land

Tip 7: Become a citizen scientist

Atypical to our usual group/family tourists, these kids were elementary school children living in low-income apartments. Harper told me that their experience with nature is usually on cement and a little bit of grass.

The kids already started asking questions before we got to the trail. I showed them the cave system and how the underground river worked, and my colleague showed the students how to release butterflies in the valley’s butterfly habitat. The kids were excited, but I was surprised when I realized that some of the students were afraid of the butterflies! I’ll never forget Tianna, a lanky girl with glasses who was determined not to go near the butterflies. She stood by the door and cautiously looked on – I wondered if she’d ever seen one before.

I realized how vital it was for children to have experiences like this watching Tianna. Once is not enough. They had the interest and the intrigue, but fear and uncertainty also played a role. A half day field trip was probably not going to be enough to instill wilderness values in these kids.

Harper and her co-worker also were surprised at the kids’ positive and curious reaction to nature. She told me that the children were clearly intrigued at the incredibly different surrounding. The kids were ready to return to the cave the very next day, and they still ask her when they are going back.

This summer, getting those kids into nature is a high on Harper’s priority list, but funding, even to get gas to take them a couple of miles away is limited. And I know that there are hundreds of thousands of kids just like the ones Harper works with everywhere in America. They are the future, and this is the challenge.

To personally get more involved with getting kids like those at Bryant way outdoors, take a look around your local community. After school and summer day-camp programs are everywhere, and they can use everything from funding to volunteers. It never hurts just to send an email or make a call to plant ideas about getting these kids to the nearest nature trail.

There are also organizations that are working on doing this as well. Learn what The Wilderness Society’s Frank Peterman is doing to get the people of Georgia outdoors, or check out this source for bringing kids into nature.

Alex Morris  

- Alexandra Morris, Communications Intern, Washington, D.C.


photo: The kids from Bryant Way Learning Center listen as Lost River Cave’s Annie Holt explains how caterpillars turn into butterflies. Photo by Susan Harper.