Organizations Come Together to Celebrate Kids and Youth in the Great Outdoors

The Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) Hosts an Event as part of Great Outdoors America Week

OAK Member Guest Blog by Tia Watkins, Sierra Club

During my second full week as a Sierra Club intern I was lucky enough to participate in Great Outdoors America Week , a week dedicated to raising awareness around outdoor issues by advocating for public lands and connecting people with nature to members of Congress and the Administration. I had a great time educating leaders on Capitol Hill, especially spreading the word about the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act !  I met wonderful volunteers from Sierra Club chapters across the country and became acquainted with some of our nation’s leaders in outdoor recreation, education and health. Though I loved every action-packed second of Great Outdoors America Week, my favorite event hands down was the Outdoors Alliance for Kids’ Youth and America’s Great Outdoors event.

OAK youth event, on June 25th, was held along the Anacostia River at Bladensburg Waterfront Park in Maryland. The scenic Bladensburg Waterfront Park, maintained by the Prince George’s County Department of Park and recreation, provided an ideal backdrop for the days’ activities.

Special Thanks to Prince George's County Parks and Recreation for use of this phenomenal urban park space.
Special Thanks to Prince George’s County Parks and Recreation for use of this phenomenal urban park space.

Spearheaded by the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) and Minneapolis-based adventure travel organization and OAK partner member, Wilderness Inquiry  the event served to spread a message of ensuring outdoor opportunities for children, youth, and families across America. Starting at nine in the morning with the arrival of the first bus of children from a local YMCA, Wilderness inquiry and several other OAK partner organizations began running a variety of activity stations.

There was no shortage of activities to keep the 400 plus guests of all ages thoroughly entertained throughout the morning. Stations included canoeing along the river, rock climbing, mountain biking, tent pitching along with an array of educational demonstrations and games all centered around nature and the outdoors.

A diverse group of organizations including OAK members and friends took part in the event not only by running activity stations but by also bringing kids and coming out in support. Participating organizations included the American Camp Association, American Forests, American Heart Association, American Hiking Society, Anacostia Watershed Society, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Bureau of Land Management, Children & Nature Network, City of Saint Paul Office of the Mayor, City Parks Alliance, The Corps Network, Earth Conservation Corps, International Mountain Biking Association, Izaak Walton League of America, National League of Cities, National Park ServiceNational Park Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, National Recreation and Park Association, NOLS Expedition Denali, North American Association for Environmental Education, The North Face, The Outdoor Foundation, Patuxent Research Refuge, Prince George’s County Department of Environmental Resources,Public Lands Service Coalition, Rails-to-Trails ConservancyREI, River Management Society, Sierra Club, Sierra Club Foundation, Urban Waters Partnership,US Army Corps of Engineers, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior, US Department of TransportationWilderness Inquiry, The Wilderness Society and the YMCA of the USA. The participation of every single one of these groups was vital to the success of the OAK Youth and America’s Great Outdoors event.

Wilderness Inquiry outfitted over 400 people with PFDs and paddles to get ready to explore the river in 24' Voyageur canoes
Wilderness Inquiry outfitted over 400 people with PFDs and paddles to get ready to explore the river in 24′ Voyageur canoes
Members of NOLS Expedition Denali teach young campers how to pitch a tent
Members of NOLS Expedition Denali teach young campers how to pitch a tent
A group of kids 'walks' the AT with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in a fun and interactive game
A group of kids ‘walks’ the AT with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in a fun and interactive game
Young environmentalists learn about local wilderness with maps and wildlife trading cards provided by the National Parks Conservation Association
Young environmentalists learn about local wilderness with maps and wildlife trading cards provided by the National Parks Conservation Association
A group of young learners get up-close and personal with some macro invertebrate samples and create their own macros with members of Creek Freaks, an outdoor education program offered by the Izaak Walton League of America
A group of young learners get up-close and personal with some macro invertebrate samples and create their own macros with members of Creek Freaks, an outdoor education program offered by the Izaak Walton League of America
High School students from Sierra Club’s Baltimore ICO group play a game while sharing their knowledge of aquatic animals with an educator from the Bureau of Land Management. Looks like a blast!
High School students from Sierra Club’s Baltimore ICO group play a game while sharing their knowledge of aquatic animals with an educator from the Bureau of Land Management. Looks like a blast!
REI brought along a 26 foot mobile rock climbing wall for youth to show off their skills
REI brought along a 26 foot mobile rock climbing wall for youth to show off their skills
Head of Prince George’s County's Community Outreach Promoting Empowerment Section, Deborah Weller leads an interactive demonstration on how community activities affect the watershed and what residents can do to help our local waterways.
Head of Prince George’s County’s Community Outreach Promoting Empowerment Section, Deborah Weller leads an interactive demonstration on how community activities affect the watershed and what residents can do to help our local waterways.
Two very special guests attended the OAK youth event, Mr. Hoots and Skye! A Eurasian eagle-owl and a red-tailed hawk brought by Earth Conservation Corps, a local group dedicated to protecting the Anacostia and the habitat it provides for beautiful animals like these.
Two very special guests attended the OAK youth event, Mr. Hoots and Skye! A Eurasian eagle-owl and a red-tailed hawk brought by Earth Conservation Corps, a local group dedicated to protecting the Anacostia and the habitat it provides for beautiful animals like these.
National Park Trust's Buddy Bison welcomes canoers back to shore. Photo courtesy of National Park Trust.
National Park Trust’s Buddy Bison welcomes canoers back to shore. Photo courtesy of National Park Trust.

Believe it or not the 400 kids and youth in attendance were not the only ones enjoying Wednesday’s festivities. Invited leaders in outdoor recreation and education shared in the fun as well. Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, US Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy and Director of Sierra Club’s “Our Wild America” campaign Dan Chu all took a ride down the river in Voyageur canoes.

Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy and Sierra Club’s Dan Chu get set to embark with some friends from Sierra Club’s Baltimore ICO group
Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy and Sierra Club’s Dan Chu get set to embark with some friends from Sierra Club’s Baltimore ICO group
Mayor of Saint Paul Chris Coleman mans the bow of his Voyageur canoe with his excited team from Prince George’s County Parks and Recreation Summer Programs
Mayor of Saint Paul Chris Coleman mans the bow of his Voyageur canoe with his excited team from Prince George’s County Parks and Recreation Summer Programs

Around eleven o’clock while activities were in full swing, adults gathered for an awards ceremony while the children continued to get their nature on. Great Outdoors America Week Champion Awards were presented to US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)Jo-Ellen Darcy, and National League of Cities President and Mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota Chris Coleman for their tireless work in providing children, youth and families with the opportunities to connect with nature and the outdoors.

Administrator McCarthy’s Chief of Staff Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming was happy to accept the award on her behalf. Likewise, Secretary Jewell’s Senior Advisor David Jayo spoke about the importance of outdoor experiences while accepting the award on Secretary Jewell’s behalf. Additional speakers for the ceremony included US Department of Transportation Under Secretary for Policy Peter Rogoff, Executive Director of the Sierra Club Foundation Peter Martin, Executive Director of Wilderness Inquiry Greg Lais and The Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams.

Jamie Williams of The Wilderness Society presents Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy with an award commemorating her work. Darcy oversees the Army Corps of Engineers, the nation's largest federal provider of outdoor and water-based recreation.

Jamie Williams of The Wilderness Society presents Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy with an award commemorating her work. Darcy oversees the Army Corps of Engineers, the nation’s largest federal provider of outdoor and water-based recreation.

"[The America’s Great Outdoors initiative] is beneficial for so many reasons; health, community, ecosystem restoration and most importantly the happiness and well-being of our children" – Assistant. Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy

“[The America’s Great Outdoors initiative] is beneficial for so many reasons; health, community, ecosystem restoration and most importantly the happiness and well-being of our children” – Assistant. Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy

Greg Lais of Wilderness Inquiry presents an award to Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who is also President of the National League of Cities. A recent partnership between the Department of the Interior, National League of Cities and the YMCA of the USA aims to connect urban youth to the outdoors.
Greg Lais of Wilderness Inquiry presents an award to Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who is also President of the National League of Cities. A recent partnership between the Department of the Interior, National League of Cities and the YMCA of the USA aims to connect urban youth to the outdoors.
"Outdoor experiences are important opportunities for youth to develop social and emotional skills, build relationships and develop an appreciation and respect for nature" – Mayor of Saint Paul Chris Coleman
“Outdoor experiences are important opportunities for youth to develop social and emotional skills, build relationships and develop an appreciation and respect for nature” – Mayor of Saint Paul Chris Coleman
“Walking and bicycling are great ways to get to work, get in shape, or just have fun” – US Department of Transportation  Acting Under Secretary for Policy Peter Rogoff
“Walking and bicycling are great ways to get to work, get in shape, or just have fun” – US Department of Transportation
Acting Under Secretary for Policy Peter Rogoff
"It’s fitting that during this 50th anniversary year of the Wilderness Act we’re celebrating nature, both wild and near." –     Sierra Club Foundation Executive Director Peter Martin
“It’s fitting that during this 50th anniversary year of the Wilderness Act we’re celebrating nature, both wild and near.” – Sierra Club Foundation Executive Director Peter Martin
"The Interior Department is working to inspire millions of young people to play, learn, serve and work in the great outdoors in order to help our nation’s public lands and to develop the next generation of outdoor stewards."– Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Interior David Jayo
“The Interior Department is working to inspire millions of young people to play, learn, serve and work in the great outdoors in order to help our nation’s public lands and to develop the next generation of outdoor stewards.”– Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Interior David Jayo
“The Environmental Protection Agency looks forward to continuing our work to improve air quality and protect our nation’s waterways, so all Americans have the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors." – Environmental Protection Agency Chief of Staff Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming
“The Environmental Protection Agency looks forward to continuing our work to improve air quality and protect our nation’s waterways, so all Americans have the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors.” – Environmental Protection Agency Chief of Staff Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming
Wednesday's event was in support of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, a partnership of federal organizations aimed at connecting urban communities with their waterways. Thanks to the Urban Waters team for their work!
Wednesday’s event was in support of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, a partnership of federal organizations aimed at connecting urban communities with their waterways. Thanks to the Urban Waters team for their work!

By noon, the awards ceremony had come to a close and children were beginning to load back onto buses. Gauging by smiles alone, the event was a tremendous success. The rain forecast for the day had a change of heart and allowed for a beautiful day of outdoor activity and fun! Everything came together so perfectly with the help of wonderful organizations and invited speakers. The OAK Youth and America’s Great Outdoors event would not have been possible without members of the OAK Steering Committee, OAK fellow Alyssa Charland and Wilderness Inquiry and its highly-qualified staff.

OAK Chair and Vice Chair, Jackie Ostfeld and Paul Sanford preparing for the arrival of the first 400 plus kids and youth
OAK Chair and Vice Chair, Jackie Ostfeld and Paul Sanford preparing for the arrival of the first 400 plus kids and youth
Huge thanks to Chad Dayton (here with our friend Buddy Bison) and his team from wilderness Inquiry for organizing such a fantastic event!
Huge thanks to Chad Dayton (here with our friend Buddy Bison) and his team from wilderness Inquiry for organizing such a fantastic event!

We hope to see you at next year’s Great Outdoors America Week!

Our Great Outdoors America Week Champions showing off their awards with speakers and event organizers.  Top row (left to right): Department of Transportation Acting Under Secretary of Policy Peter Rogoff, Wilderness Inquiry Director of Programs Chad Dayton, The Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams, Mayor of Saint Paul Chris Coleman, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of the Interior David Jayo, Environmental Protection Agency Chief of Staff Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming, OAK Co-Vice Chair Paul Sanford, and Wilderness Inquiry Executive Director Greg Lais. Botton row (left to right): Sierra Club Foundation Executive Director Peter Martin, OAK's State and Local Action Team Co-Leader Katie Clarke Adamson, and OAK Chair Jackie Ostfeld.
Our Great Outdoors America Week Champions showing off their awards with speakers and event organizers.
Top row (left to right): Department of Transportation Acting Under Secretary of Policy Peter Rogoff, Wilderness Inquiry Director of Programs Chad Dayton, The Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams, Mayor of Saint Paul Chris Coleman, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of the Interior David Jayo, Environmental Protection Agency Chief of Staff Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming, OAK Co-Vice Chair Paul Sanford, and Wilderness Inquiry Executive Director Greg Lais. Botton row (left to right): Sierra Club Foundation Executive Director Peter Martin, OAK’s State and Local Action Team Co-Leader Katie Clarke Adamson, and OAK Chair Jackie Ostfeld.

Check out another great recap of OAK’s 2nd Annual Youth and America’s Great Outdoors event on Storify!