Category Archives: Blogs

RENEWING A LOVE FOR THE OUTDOORS THIS SPRING: Screen-Free Week 2019

guest blog by Rinny Yourman, JD, Screen-Free Week Outreach Coordinator, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, OAK Member

When children have free time to themselves, how do we want them to spend it?

We hope they’ll spend it looking down –not at screens– but digging in the dirt, gardening, collecting shells or stones, admiring flowers, watering plants. Maybe they’ll spend it looking up –admiring birds, trees, clouds, sunsets, and stars. Perhaps they’ll get moving, choosing to hike, bike, canoe, explore. Or maybe they will simply lie still, quietly attuned to the nature sounds and breezes that envelope them.

Screen-Free Week, the annual, international celebration that takes place this year April 29-May 5, encourages children, families, schools, and communities to set aside entertainment screens for a week and instead fill their free time with all kinds of screen-free fun. There is no prescription for how to celebrate, other than to go entertainment screen-free. So children can read, garden, exercise, craft, knit, explore, meditate, volunteer, hike, anything.

Elementary and high school students from Chicago Waldorf School clean up
Welles Park during Screen-Free Week 2017.

In 2018, Screen-Free Week celebrations around the world included a vast variety of nature experiences and time spent outdoors. We heard from families, schools, and communities that they enjoyed, among other things: gardening, hikes, bike rides, visits (to nature centers, parks, farms, arboretums, public gardens, farmers markets, planetariums), playground meet-ups, nature and bird walks, beach activities, seed exchanges, garden day, nature programs, canoeing, nature journaling, bike-to-school day, outdoor festivals, tree treks, nature-themed crafts, kite flying, and so much more.

Screen-Free Week is an especially magical week for nudging the kids in our lives to spend time outdoors. Milder weather stirs a natural desire in us to immerse ourselves in nature. Why not capitalize on this inclination by celebrating Screen-Free Week 2019 with nature-themed activities? We invite zoos, aquariums, nature centers, public gardens, and national, state, and local parks to encourage children to visit and explore during Screen-Free Week.

We’d be thrilled to see every family, school, and community initiate a gardening project in honor of Screen-Free Week. Gardening provides children with a lifelong skill, beautifies and feeds, instructs about local ecology, is suitable indoors or out, and teaches patience and persistence.

Our dream is that in the near future, young adults will claim that it was during Screen-Free Week when their parents, caregivers, teachers, grandparents, or family friends first introduced them to their love of gardening.

This year, Screen-Free Week falls during the same week as the 100th-anniversary celebration of Children’s Book Week. Why not celebrate both events with a nature-themed twist? As we all know, children’s books can be meaningful portals to discovery. So before Screen-Free Week begins, be on the lookout for children’s books that inspire home or school garden projects. Then, during Screen-Free Week, bring children’s books with you on outdoor excursions, to help children identify constellations, cloud formations, birds, trees, flowers, and insects. And consider finding nature-themed arts and crafts books for creative inspiration.

There are fascinating nature-related fiction books worth reading during Screen-Free Week. How many of us have been moved by such novels as Island of the Blue DolphinsMy Side of the Mountain or Hatchet? How many of our kids have committed to wildlife conservation efforts from such titles such as The Loraxand Hoot? In honor of both events, why not encourage a child to read any book she desires, but do it outdoors, whether in a hammock, on the balcony, or at the scenic terminus of a hiking trail? How about reading aloud to a child, while you are both sitting outside?

Ideally, we want kids to complete Screen-Free Week with a renewed sense of connection to the earth and the outdoors. Perhaps, if given the chance, they’ll emerge from Screen-Free Week with a newfound love of nature or outdoor activity. Hopefully, the week will invite them, along with their families, to engage in more mindful use of tech going forward. And maybe they’ll invite a friend or family member to enjoy some outdoor time, together.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which hosts Screen-Free Week, invites nature lovers everywhere to download free Screen-Free Week resources and register their Screen-Free Week celebrations at here.

Re-posted with permission from the Children & Nature Network

When the Kids Speak Up

by Jackie Ostfeld, OAK Founder & Chair, Director of Sierra Club’s Outdoors for All campaign

Photo Credit: National Park Trust

The Every Kid Outdoors Act is now the law of the land – no pun intended. An historic public lands package has swept through both chambers of Congress in atypical bipartisan fashion and landed on the president’s desk. The conservation bill includes protections for millions of acres of wild lands and hundreds of miles of rivers. It permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund which not only helps to acquire new public lands, but also to expand nearby nature access to local parks and recreation opportunities. The landmark legislation authorizes the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, creating career pathways in conservation for youth and young veterans. And it establishes a new national monument to civil rights leader and World War II veteran Medgar Evers.

This massive public lands package was years in the making. But the Every Kid Outdoors Act is a relative newcomer, born out of one of the greatest challenges facing our national parks. Audrey and Frank Peterman put it clearly in a recent piece for Audubon: our national parks have a diversity problem.

The Every Kid in a Park program was established in 2015 by President Barack Obama as part of his commitment to ensure that all kids would have an opportunity to visit and enjoy our shared public lands. The program was an invitation to fourth graders and their families, designed to welcome a new generation into national parks.

The program was wildly popular when it was announced. In just the first two years, more than two million fourth graders downloaded their Every Kid in a Park vouchers online. And it was popular across the partisan divide, with both red- and blue-leaning states like IndianaMarylandNew York, WyomingIdaho, and New Mexico adopting the program in their park systems. Nevada’s Republican Governor Brian Sandoval even signed a state lawto open up state parks to fifth graders.

I was honored to join the administration and my colleagues in the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) to help launch the Every Kid in a Park program in Washington, D.C.New York City, and Hawaii. In Detroit, Garrett Dempsey joined partners to host events reaching over 4,000 kids with nature-based opportunities. In Los Angeles, Roberto Morales built partnerships with schools and nonprofits to expand opportunities for fourth graders to visit the San Gabriel Mountains. Youth-serving organizations, like the National Park Trust, Wilderness Inquiry, and many others, leveraged the program to expand outdoor opportunities for the kids they served. Companies like REI and The North Face chipped in, too. Over five million dollars was leveraged from the private sector to support transportation costs for children attending Title 1 schools.

Photo Credit: National Park Trust

I knew the 2016 election would have consequences. Never did I imagine that this nonpartisan program serving children would be targeted for elimination. But that is exactly what happened. The Outdoors Alliance for Kids began to hear that the new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was considering letting the program expire quietly. Members of OAK organized to lend their support. Through a postcard campaign and youth blog series, we collected personal stories from fourth graders about the impact of the program on their own lives.

Photo Credit: Isabel Argoti, Every Kid in a Park Fellow (Youth share their stories about the Every Kid in a Park program)

But we couldn’t take any chances, so in 2017, OAK worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to introduce the Every Kid Outdoors Act, legislation that would protect Every Kid in a Park from being eliminated by the Trump administration. We hosted a congressional briefing, lifting up the voices of two young girls who had participated in the program. We hosted a Twitter party with the bill sponsors, including Representative Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts,
and partnered with Blue Sky Funders Forum to engage the funding community by co-hosting a webinar, which also featured the congresswoman. We organized sign-on letters, congressional testimony, lobby days, and grassroots action alerts.

Photo Credit: National Park Trust (Two young girls share their experience during a briefing on Capitol Hill)

Despite all the bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, Secretary Zinke made another play to let the Every Kid in a Park program expire. This time he publicly signaled his intent to end the program during testimony in front of a congressional committee, telling senators, “When you give discounted or free passes to elderly, fourth graders, veterans, disabled, and you do it by the carload, there’s not a whole lot of people who actually pay at our front door.”

OAK collected sign-on letters and grassroots action alerts from nearly 100 organizations and more than 50,000 people, urging Zinke to continue the program. But it was the voices of children that ultimately swayed him to do the right thing. In the spring of 2018, eight kids from military families delivered handwritten postcards from over 1,000 fourth-graders to Secretary Zinke during a meeting organized by the National Park Trust and Blue Star Families. Days later, Zinke announced he would extend the program for one more year.

Photo Credit: Tami Heiliman, U.S. Department of the Interior (Children deliver 1,000+ postcards to Interior Secretary Zinke on the value of the Every Kid in a Park program)

Thanks to the passage of the Every Kid Outdoors Act, the youth we serve can spend their time exploring and enjoying the outdoors, rather than gearing up to fight to save the program for the third year in a row. Now we just need to make sure that every fourth grader in the U.S. has a chance to use their national park pass, and develop the lifelong connection to nature that all of us deserve to experience. You can download your pass here.

DETROIT KIDS NEED THE OUTDOORS

guest post by Mark Naida – originally appeared in The Detroit News. This story features Detroit Outdoors, a collaborative effort supported by Detroit Parks and Rec, The Kresge Foundation, and OAK members Sierra Club, YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit, and REI.

Living in an urban environment, Detroiters often don’t get the same opportunities to enjoy the outdoors as other Michiganians.

Photo- Jac Kyle - Courtesy
(Photo: Jac Kyle / Courtesy)

So they miss out on learning the value of conservation and on understanding the possibilities of careers in fields which preserve and maintain natural spaces. Public land is part of our natural heritage, and should be accessible by every American, even those who live in the big city.

Welcome to Scout Hollow, Detroit’s only campground.

Red-Tailed Hawks soar overhead and Monarch butterflies float on the wind. The Rouge River meanders through 17.4 acres of pristine green space incongruously outlined by I-96 and the Southfield Freeway. Untamed woods cover 12 acres and the the other 5 are maintained for camp sites.

Established in 1939 for Boy Scouts, the last troop broke camp 10 years ago and nature overtook the site.

When Garrett Dempsey, program manager of Detroit Outdoors, first saw the campground, the only thing distinguishing it from wilderness was a set of steps covered by a fallen tree and flagpole that rose from the tall grass.

“Nature had a lease,” says Dempsey. “No one had mown in 10 years.”

Dempsey and Jac Kyle, outdoor education coordinator for the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department, put their energies toward the rehabilitation of the campground.

Private donations — a $200,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation, $20,000 from the Sierra Club, and $10,000 from REI, an outdoor outfitter — paid for the renovation.

Scout Hollow offers everything a group could want for a campout, including a gear library that lends tents, cook kits, and rain protection..

“In an urban area, you can easily forget about nature,” Dempsey says. “It is important to foster a connection with it. With this place, we have been able to take down barriers to camping.”

The closest other campground to Detroit is the Highland recreation area in White Lake.

Camping can bring peace to an otherwise bustling urban environment.

“If you think of the use of technology in kids lives today,” Kyle says, “it is hard to go 24 hours without a phone. This is a space where you can interact and not just be on the phone or watching television. We hang out by a fire and cook dinner together.”

Scout Hollow offers the very experiences in nature that the Outdoor Adventure Center, a museum to nature on the Detroit Riverwalk, tries to recreate.

We felt there was a need for more presence to creatively engage the urban community with the outdoors,” says Ron Olson, chief of Parks and Recreation for the Michigan DNR, which runs the outdoor center. “We hatched the idea of an experiential center where people could come and learn about the rest of the state and the outdoors.”

But then what? Once kids are excited about nature, they need an outlet to cultivate that passion. And that’s what Scout Hollow aims to do.

Now attention is turning to Belle Isle, Detroit’s largest outdoor park.

Olson says that after hosting a few camping events on Belle isle, the DNR has begun to consider building a permanent campground on the island. But the project is well down a priority list that is first addressing neglected areas of the island.

“We still have a lot to do to bring the park back up to snuff,” Olson says.

The DNR should keep its focus on providing hands-on outdoor opportunities for Detroiters, particularly children.

It can be done without breaking the budget. Scout Hollow was rehabilitated on a tight budget and with limited resources.

And it’s allowed Detroiters to camp under the stars without leaving the city.

mnaida@detroitnews.com

It’s Fresh Air Fitness Month!

Guest blog post by Marla Hollander, American Heart Association

What could be better than taking a Walk in Nature with your kids?

Thinking back on my childhood, my experience with nature as a kid was confined to the suburban neighborhood I grew up in including the neighborhood park, Grover’s Mill pond (yes, the infamous “War of the Worlds” 1938 Martian landing site) and the Jersey shore.  Not so shabby for nature connections. Climbing trees in the spring, skating on the pond in winter and swimming in the ocean all summer were all things I loved and just did. Fast forward a couple decades and I discovered that my hometown was also home to the D & R Canal state park, Sourland Mountain preserve and the Mountain Lakes Preserve, all providing incredible opportunities to get outdoors and move, yet I was unaware of their existence as a kid.  While we had the ability to access these incredible resources, my family didn’t know how or why to access them.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that children engage in 60 minutes of physical activity every day, yet a report brief from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine finds that only about half of kids meet that recommendation.  Additionally, a 2011 study in the Journal of Pediatrics reported that television viewing by young children has been associated with cognitive and speech delays, aggressive behavior, decreased academic performance, and obesity. The time that young children spend watching TV or using a computer or tablet has replaced the time spent on other activities like reading and active or imaginative play – and particularly outdoor play.

We need to change this script!  We need to help our kids get active.

AHA-blog-7.12.18
My kids canoeing in Lake Needwood, Maryland. Photo credit: Marla Hollander

Providing safe places to play and be physically active throughout every child’s day is critical to heart health and keeping kids healthy. Getting outdoors with one’s family is a great way to spend time together and model healthy behaviors and one of my favorite activities!

My real passion for being an active outdoors person was not tapped until my early adulthood when friends and travel introduced me to what I call the wild – places like Crater Lake in the Oregon and Cape Tribulation in Australia. Now, an avid hiker, I’ve lived in four states with my kids and with each relocation, we look for how we can get out moving and connecting with nature as a family.  In Sarasota, we loved kayaking the protected mangroves; in San Diego it was surfing and hiking Torrey Pines State Park; in Washington, DC we spend a lot of time exploring the local Rock Creek Trail system that meanders throughout the city. Many communities have natural resources within reach – but we need to look for them, expose our kids early and often, and make them safe and accessible. In doing so we can help ensure they are getting the physical activity they need, and I can’t think of a better way to get active and connected as a family.

Throughout the month of July, the American Heart Association, the world’s leading voluntary organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke, has been challenging everyone to get outdoors and get moving. The Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) supports and embraces this challenge and I am grateful to be a guest blogger for OAK connecting nature, health and kids.

Fresh Air Fitness Month is part of the association’s Healthy For Good™ movement, which inspires people everywhere to make lasting changes in their health and their lives, one small step at a time.

Marla Hollander resides in Kensington MD, is a mom of two middle school kids, and a staff member of Voices of Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to ensure all kids have access to healthy food, beverages and safe places to be physically active.  She also serves on OAK’s steering committee.

A TIME TO UNPLUG: Get Ready for Screen-Free Week!

Guest blog by Rinny Yourman, JD – originally appeared on childrenandnaturenetwork.org.  OAK is a proud endorser of Screen-Free Week.

Imagine a week when children give their undivided attention to the natural world around them. With the exception of school and homework, they spend that week outdoors – hiking, biking, reading, exploring, gardening, collecting, stargazing, dreaming.

With not a smartphone in sight, they are intently focused on their surroundings – shifting clouds, myriad bird songs, velvety moss, scented peonies, foraged edible plants.

This magical week is real and rapidly approaching. It’s called Screen-Free Week and it takes place this year from April 30-May 6. During this annual, international event, children and families are encouraged to unplug from entertainment screens and instead enjoy a host of fun screen-free activities, including reading, playing, exercising, crafting – and, of course, gardening, exploring nature, and enjoying outdoor recreation.

There are many reasons to carve out a screen-free week during the school year.  2016 study by the nonprofit Common Sense Media found that teens consume an average of nearly nine hours of entertainment media daily, while tweens average nearly six hours – and those averages exclude screen time for school and homework.  A similar study of children aged eight and younger found an average of two and a quarter hours of entertainment screen use daily.

What impact does this excessive time with screens have on children?  The evidence is mounting that it’s taking a toll on their physical, emotional, and social health. The American Academy of Pediatrics citesincreased risks of obesity, sleep disturbances, depression, internet gaming disorder, reduced school performance, earlier initiation into a host of risky behaviors, and the potential for exposure to sex offenders and cyberbullying. Other research has found that teens’ smartphone and social media use are correlated with increased rates of unhappiness and depression. And that when increased screen time displaces human interaction, children’s ability to read social cues is impaired.

These alarm bells would be less compelling if it were easy for children to disconnect. However, former tech industry insiders are now warning of the ways that tech companies have made unplugging nearly impossible.  And children aren’t the only ones struggling to disconnect. In a Common Sense Media studyof parents of teens and tweens, screen media use by parents for non-work purposes averaged almost eight hours per day.

Screen-Free Week is a small yet effective antidote to much of this stress, giving growing minds and bodies a much-needed respite from the seductive pull of digital screens and the constant barrage of harmful marketing messages.  When families take the week off together, they find that the screen break promotes such deep family connection that the experience informs more thoughtful screen choices for the remainder of the year.

While the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood hosts Screen-Free Week, CCFC is only a clearinghouse of information and ideas.

Screen-Free Week is a dynamic grassroots movement where the real heroes are the thousands of parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians, activists, and community leaders who prepare a week’s worth of screen-free events, from bicycle rodeos to book readings to picnics to crafts activities and much more.

They are the ones who infuse Screen-Free Week with heart and spirit. Knowing children as well as they do, they commit to this undertaking year after year because they recognize that Screen-Free Week is more engaging and festive when it is celebrated with others.

Thanks to all of this organizing effort, there is yet another unique benefit of Screen-Free Week: it gives children the time and opportunity to explore activities that are new to them. During Screen-Free Week, children discover a love of such activities as cooking, knitting, reading Harry Potter books, and volunteering. Our goal for 2018 is to firmly cement gardening, nature exploration, and outdoor recreation to this growing list of new interests.

We invite naturalists and park rangers, master gardeners and beekeepers, parks and nature centers to help spread the news that spending time in nature is the perfect screen-free activity. While there may not be sufficient time to organize formal Screen-Free Week activities this year, we know that nature centers and local, state, and national parks routinely schedule screen-free nature and outdoor activities, so don’t hesitate to reach out to fans and followers to suggest they join your already scheduled activities during Screen-Free Week. Or just encourage members of your social networks to head outdoors, visit a local park or nature center, enjoy a family hike or bike ride, or try their hand at gardening during Screen-Free Week. With your support, we can help families, schools, and communities discover that the outdoors and Screen-Free Week truly are a natural fit.

Photo Credits: Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood & Children & Nature Network

CCFC invites nature lovers everywhere to plan ahead for next year’s Screen-Free Week, scheduled for April 29-May 5, 2019.

NEW YORK BILL CONNECTS CHILDREN WITH OUTDOORS

by Suparna Dutta, Sierra Club Outdoors intern

New York joins the growing roster of states advancing strategies to connect children and youth with the outdoors. With a unanimous vote (63-0) lawmakers from both sides of the aisle just passed legislation to address the growing divide between children and the outdoors.

State Assembly Bill A735 was just signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and directs the state commissioners of health and environmental conservation to study and develop a long term strategy to promote outdoor environmental education and recreation with a focus on outdoor play and learning opportunities, for kids in New York.

The bill was introduced in response to a growing body of research revealing that children and youth are increasingly spending time indoors. On average, the American child spends between four to seven minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play and recreation, while exposure to daily screen-time exceeds seven hours for adolescents. Bill authors point to a correlation between increasing childhood obesity rates and the decline in outdoor recreation, and acknowledge access to open space as vital for everyone, and “particularly valuable to children growing up in “urban hardscapes,” or areas where access to nature is limited.” The strategy is to be based on an analysis of the health of New York’s youth, including childhood obesity rates and economic trends related to outdoor access. It will also be developed in consultation with state health and advisory bodies. The strategy will help New York develop long-term policies that support environmental stewardship and embrace the health benefits of time in nature to improve the well-being of New York state residents.

Founding member of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, the Y played a pivotal role in advancing this important policy measure. “The YMCA’s mission stands for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. We supported this bill from its very inception since it is congruous to the mission of the Alliance,” said Kyle Stewart, Executive Director of the Alliance of New York State YMCAs. “The development of policies that foster stewardship of the environment, an appreciation of the importance of the wise use of natural resources, and recognition of the health benefits of time spent in nature are essential to the residents of New York state.”

The Alliance of New York State YMCAs and New York’s state legislature and found inspiration for this statewide effort in the federal Healthy Kids Outdoors Act, supported by the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. If passed, the legislation would  encourage states to develop multi-year multi-sector strategies to connect children and youth to the outdoors.

The Alliance of New York State YMCAs received the 2017 OAK Leaf Award for raising awareness about the importance of open spaces for children’s health and playing a critical role in the passage of Assembly Bill 735.

This Holiday Season, Help Get iGen Outside

Guest blog post by Patrick Deavy, National Environmental Education Foundation.

This holiday season, a family hike or quick trip to a local park could offer more than a chance to escape the hustle and bustle. A new survey conducted by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) shows signs that these family outings may also be an important opportunity for parents to talk to their teens about the benefits to more outdoor time. The survey, which examines how teens across the country interact with the outdoors, finds parents, along with teachers, are their top sources for information about the environment. The survey also confirms what many parents and educators may already observe: today’s teens spend little time outdoors.

According to NEEF’s 2017 Teen Benchmark Survey, less than a quarter (23%) of teens frequently spend time with friends outside. Most teens (80%) say they prefer to spend time indoors, even though they recognize that time outdoors makes them healthier (92%) and happier (88%).

NEEF has a vision that by 2022, 300 million Americans will actively use environmental knowledge to ensure the well-being of the earth and its people. Fostering a deeper connection to the outdoors among today’s teens—who are also our future leaders—is a critical piece of this work. Parents and teachers can play an integral role in strengthening that connection, with nine in 10 teens citing them as trusted sources of environmental education.

As we work to inspire people to learn about their relationship to the environment, we hope findings from the NEEF 2017 Teen Benchmark Survey will empower parents, educators, and others who directly influence teens to increase their efforts to engage young people in more activities that get them outside and learning about their environment. Together, we are helping teens find a balance with their use of technology and getting outdoors. By forging a stronger connection between teens and the environment, we can ensure the well-being of the next generation and our world.

This holiday season, help us get #iGenOutside. Visit www.neefusa.org to learn more. Or, to access graphics and other resources to help share survey findings, access the Youth Survey Toolkit here.

Every Kid in a Park Youth Blog Series: Post #8 Tigran

Junior Ranger Tigran with Buddy Bison
Photo Credit: National Park Trust

Every Kid in a Park – Youth Blog Series, Post #8
Interview with Tigran, Buddy Bison Student Ambassador

Meet Tigran, a twelve year old* from California. Tigran serves as a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador through the National Park Trust and is a true advocate for getting other kids in the outdoors! His incredible involvement has earned him the Gold President’s Volunteer Service Award. Tigran shares with us his experience at multiple parks and the importance of getting more kids like him to become park stewards.

What is your name, age, and where are you from?

Tigran: Tigran, age 12, from Ojai, California.

What do you love about the outdoors?

Tigran: The outdoors has amazing beauty and abundant wildlife. The outdoors allows people to relax and explore amazing places that no photo can truly capture.

What is your happiest memory in the outdoors?

Tigran: My happiest outdoor memory is exploring Santa Cruz Island with my family and seeing my very first island fox. I was able to spend some time watching it and I took lots of pictures.

What is your role with National Park Trust?

Tigran: I am the first student Buddy Bison Ambassador. I write for the Buddy Bison’s Buzz newsletter and I post on Instagram and Twitter (@jrrangertigran).

As an ambassador, I encourage children to take Buddy Bison on outdoor adventures with them. I get to help out at special events and hand out Buddy Bison stuffed animals, t-shirts, and Every Kid in a Park passes.  

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Photo Credit: National Park Trust

What do you love the most about being a student Buddy Bison Ambassador?

Tigran: My favorite part about being an ambassador is motivating kids to get outdoors, be active and healthy, and explore our beautiful national parks.

Can you talk about one of your biggest volunteer projects you’ve helped organize or been a part of? Why did you enjoy it so much?

Tigran: My longest volunteer project was the National Park Service Centennial Challenge. The challenge was to volunteer for 201.6 hours in 2016. I started the first of the year by kicking off the Rose Parade in Pasadena. I volunteered many days at the Channel Islands National Park visitor center and worked at  many special events: coastal cleanups, native island plant sales, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area Bird Festival, NPS events at the Museum of Ventura County, Junior Ranger Day, Backbone Trail dedication, Ventura County Fair’s Channel Islands National Park booth, Parade of Lights, Tomatomania, Earth Day,  BioBlitz, Kids to Parks Day, and NEEF Hands on the Land island restoration projects. I also became a youth board member of Channel Islands Park Foundation. I am proud to say that I exceeded the challenge and I was honored to receive the Gold President’s Volunteer Service Award, which is the highest honor the President awards a volunteer (other than the Lifetime Achievement Award—I’m a little young for that!).

I enjoyed the variety of events I was able to assist with but my favorite part was when I was able to combine my roles to help bring children to the park. National Park Trust and Channel Islands Park Foundation partnered to bring 4th graders to Anacapa Island in support of Every Kid in a Park to meet Dr. Sylvia Earle for the celebration of BioBlitz and Kids to Parks Day. They all had a great time and each student received their Every Kid in a Park pass and earned their junior ranger badges.

What is one of your favorite parks you’ve visited and why? Who did you go with?

Tigran: This is a very hard question because all of the national parks are unique in their own ways. But Channel Islands National Park is special to me because I earned my first junior ranger badge there when I was five. It is an amazing park because of the diversity of wildlife on land and in the sea. I first experienced the Park with my parents and now my parents and I are all volunteers for Channel Islands National Park and the Channel Islands Park Foundation.

Why do you think it’s important for kids and families to spend time outdoors?

Tigran: It’s good to spend time outdoors with your family because it builds wonderful memories and teaches important lessons and skills such as perseverance by completing long hikes, and it teaches us to be more aware of the environment and the importance of protecting our incredible parks for future generations.

Have you heard about the Every Kid in a Park program? If so, were you able to participate? Why or why not?

Tigran: Yes, I love the Every Kid in a Park program. Unfortunately, I was one year too old to participate in the program. However, I have helped promote the program on social media. Every Kid in a Park used my photograph to promote the program in Scholastic Magazine, and I am happy to say that the entire fourth grade class at my school participated in the program.

Do you think this program is important to continue for future generations?

Tigran: Yes, it’s important to continue the program because it gets kids involved with nature when they are young, yet old enough to get the full educational experience of our beautiful parks.

Is there anything you’d like to say to the people who run the program?

Tigran: I would like to say thank you for creating the program. It helps kids to have easier access to our national treasures. It gives the opportunity to participate in the junior ranger programs and become park stewards. I would not have become a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador, a National Park volunteer or a Channel Islands Park Foundation Board Member without the junior ranger program.

What advice would you give to other students who are perhaps visiting a national park for the first time or receiving their Every Kid in a Park pass?

Tigran: First of all, take your time to look around to get the most out of your visit. A great way to do that is to earn your junior ranger badge, which will help guide your activities in the park. Be sure to talk to rangers—they can often share stories that you can’t find at the visitor center. They each have such incredible knowledge of our parks. Just head outdoors and make the most of your special pass.

What would you want to be when you grow up? Is it related to the outdoors?

Tigran: My ultimate goal is to be the Director of the National Park Service. It would be an honor to direct the preservation and protection of our beautiful and unique national parks.

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Photo Credit: National Park Trust

august-2016
Photo Credit: National Park Trust, Maddie Freed

*Since the posting of this blog, Tigran has now turned 13! Happy birthday, Tigran!

Fourth Graders Float into OAK Week 2017

Parent and two kids canoeing along the Potomac River
Photo Credit: National Park Trust

All photo credits go to the National Park Trust.

Classrooms on water is a new way of learning for students across the nation. This new type of classroom allows students to learn about science, history, geography, and culture while floating along a river. This past week, Wilderness Inquiry’s Canoemobile program traveled to the nation’s capital giving students in Washington D.C. the chance to experience a unique outdoor field trip on the Potomac River.

The National Park Service advocates for “Parks as Classrooms,” and it’s no different when talking about rivers and bodies of water. Canoemobile brings the classroom to the outdoors, engaging youth in environmental stewardship and recreational opportunities. Canoemobile is a collaboration of federal, state, and local partners.

OAK members joined Wilderness Inquiry and National Park Trust for a special Canoemobile event in Washington, D.C. with partners The North Face, National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service to celebrate the Every Kid in a Park program and kick off OAK’s annual gathering.

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A highlight in the event was the distribution of Every Kid in a Park passes. This interagency program grants fourth graders nationwide free entry for them and their families to more than 2,000 federally managed lands and waters nationwide for an entire year.  The goal of the Every Kid in a Park program is to inspire fourth graders everywhere to visit our federal lands and waters. The program works to ensure “every child” in the U.S. has the opportunity to visit and enjoy their federal lands and waters by the time he or she is 11 years old. Having just been renewed for its third year this past September, the passes given to these students will be valid until August 31, 2018.

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Seventy fourth graders from D.C. public schools were able to take 24-foot Voyageur canoes along the Potomac river and learn about the watershed. For many of these students, although the Potomac river is just a few miles away, they have never actually been on the river to participate recreationally. With the proper instruction, the fourth graders were able to safely enjoy the Potomac River and learn about its environmental importance.

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Partnering organizations led activity stations for the students. The North Face led students through a relay race activity which taught students how to properly pack a backpack and build a tent for a camping trip. With a little competition and movement, students were able to stay engaged and learn new skills about recreating in the outdoors.

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As a wrap up to the morning of events, the fourth graders were asked to fill out postcards from OAK explaining why they love their Every Kid in a Park pass. This initiative is part of a larger national campaign OAK is organizing for any fourth grader in the nation. To download and mail in postcard from home, visit the OAK website.

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Even WTOP, a local FM radio station, stopped by to cover the event! Read their story.

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This youth event kicked off this year’s official OAK Week. Later in the afternoon, OAK formally welcomed all member organizations with a Welcome Reception & Member Awards. In the next two days, OAK continued with its Annual Member Meeting, Networking Happy Hour, Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, and finalized the week with a Congressional Awards Reception.

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Learn more about the Outdoors Alliance for Kids and ways to joining this national strategic partnership which advocates for equitable and readily available opportunities for children, youth and families to connect with the outdoors.

Every Kid in a Park Youth Blog Series: Post #7 Sarah

Photo Credit: National Park Trust

Every Kid in a Park – Youth Blog Series, Post #7
Interview with Sarah H., Buddy Bison Student Ambassador

Meet Sarah H., a twelve year old from New Jersey in middle school. Although she did not receive an Every Kid in a Park pass during her 4th grade year, she is a huge advocate for getting kids her age outdoors and into parks. She serves as a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador through the National Park Trust and was kind enough to talk about her experience as a young leader.

 

What is your name, age, and where are you from?

Sarah: My name is Sarah H.  I’m 12, and I live in Vineland, New Jersey.

What is your role with the National Park Trust?

Sarah: I am a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador. As a student ambassador, I try and get kids and their families to explore outdoors at parks and other natural areas. I post pictures on my Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages, @jrrangersarah.  When I visit parks, I talk to the rangers and tell them about Buddy Bison and the National Park Trust. I also write articles for Buddy Bison’s Buzz. I have been working on volunteer projects at different parks, too. In the summer I went to Valley Forge National Historical Park and helped with the Crayfish Corps. I got to help take invasive crayfish out of a stream in the park. I also got to volunteer with a group called the Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and its Tributaries. I helped them collect dragonfly larvae for one of their projects. I also led a hike on the nature trail at Wheaton Arts in Millville, New Jersey.

What do you love about the outdoors?

Sarah: I love the outdoors because you can explore and there’s always something new to see. I also like learning about plants, animals, and other things outdoors.

What is one of your favorite parks you’ve visited and why? What activities did you participate in and who did you go with?

Sarah: Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is one of my favorite parks. Last year I got to participate in the Centennial Celebration for the National Park Service. I got to take a tour with one of the park rangers and I visited different parts of the park, like the LIberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the Second Bank of the U.S. I really love historical parks like Independence National Historical Park. I love getting to see where our country started. And, you can really walk in the footsteps of our founding fathers. I really like that this is a national park in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a city. Instead of dirt roads with horses going across, its now paved roads with cars going across. My family comes with me on my trips to parks.  

What is your happiest memory in the outdoors?

Sarah: I have so many happy memories in the outdoors! I love spending time with my family outdoors. My grandfather, M.G., goes to a lot of parks with me. He takes me to a lot of the same parks that he took my mom to when she was younger.

What do you love the most about being a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador?

Sarah: As a Buddy Bison Student Ambassador, you get to explore, and you always have someone to talk to about parks and nature. I really liked being able to plan the very first Kids to Parks Day for my hometown of Vineland, New Jersey.

Can you explain one of your biggest accomplishments as an ambassador?

Sarah: In May, 2017, I planned the very first Kids to Parks Day for my hometown of Vineland, New Jersey. I went to meetings for the Vineland Environmental Commission, and they helped me choose a park for the event, and they also helped me with planning the event. I also got a proclamation from the mayor of Vineland for Kids to Parks Day. I planned lots of activities for the day, such as Litter Pickup Hikes, an A to Z hike, and lots more. I also had crafts and an Art in the Park activity for kids and their families.  

Why do you think it’s important for kids and families to spend time outdoors?

Sarah: 1: It’s healthy for you.
2: It’s fun.
3: Just because it’s awesome!

Have you heard about the Every Kid in a Park program? If so, were you able to participate? (Why or why not?)

Sarah: Yes, I have heard about the program. I did not participate, because when I was in 4th grade I had not heard about the program yet. I have a younger sister, and she’s excited to get her Every Kid in a Park pass when she’s in 4th grade.

Do you think this program is important to continue for future generations?

Sarah: Yes, because it gives more kids the chance to get outdoors to parks. There are so many great places out there to explore!

Is there anything you’d like to say to the people who run the program?

Sarah: It would be nice if they had Every Kids in a Park passes for more grades.  

What advice would you give to other students who are perhaps visiting a national park for the first time or receiving their Every Kid in a Park pass?

Sarah: Do what you love, and don’t stop! Visit as many parks as you can, talk to the park rangers, and complete the junior ranger badge books. You will learn a lot and have so much fun, too!

Lastly, what do you want to be when you grow up? Is it related to the outdoors?

Sarah: When I’m older, I’m going to be a mayor, governor, congresswoman, and the first female president of the United States. I was thinking that when I’m president, I will appoint Junior Ranger Tigran, who is also a Buddy Bison Student ambassador, to be the director of the National Park Service.  

Photo Credit: National Park Trust