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.
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 Service, National 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 Conservancy, REI, 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 Transportation, Wilderness 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.
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.
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.
“[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
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.
We hope to see you at next year’s Great Outdoors America Week!