Growing Stronger Together in 2022: Outdoors Alliance for Kids

by Jackie Ostfeld, OAK co-founder and chair

As we head into winter, I am welcoming the short days and long nights as an invitation to slow down, rest, and reflect. Walking through my neighborhood park on a crisp cool day, I am filled with gratitude for my nearby parks and public lands, places I go to escape the challenges of motherhood, work, the ongoing pandemic, and the climate crisis on our doorstep. But not everyone has the same easy access to nature that I do.

One-hundred million people in the U.S., including 28 million children, do not live within walking, biking, or rolling distance of a safe park of green space. The greatest disparities in access are unsurprisingly found in Black, Indigenous, Latine, Asian, and low-income communities. These same communities suffer from systemic racial injustices; greater impacts of the climate crisis and environmental pollution; and preventable and chronic disease and illness, such as obesity, heart disease, asthma as well as Covid-19. 

Access to the benefits of nature should not be a luxury for the few, but a human right for all. While we still have a long way to go to ensure all kids and families can connect with nature, the progress we made in 2022 as an alliance fills me with hope.

Here’s a look back at just a few of OAK’s accomplishments for which I am particularly grateful:

Empowered & Celebrated Youth Advocates. Youth leaders raised their voices with decision-makers at the OAK-led America the Beautiful: Connecting Youth with Public Lands and Waters hike and listening session with senior leaders in the Biden administration and through meetings with elected leaders on Capitol Hill as part of OAK Week, our annual gathering. We also celebrated youth leaders like Uriel Llanas of Detroit, Lily Kay of Dallas, and Jonna Brady of the Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara & Sac and Fox Nations with OAK Acorn Awards for their efforts to expand access to nature for children and youth.

Established an OAK Advisory Council. In 2022, we launched an OAK Advisory Council, adding a critical element to OAK’s organizational structure by inviting input and guidance to OAK’s staff, steering committee, and members, helping to ensure the alliance maintains a broad, diverse, and inclusive set of perspectives that help shape our direction and increase the impact of our activities. OAK’s Advisory Council members are Ayodele Abdul-Hadi, a youth leader and law student; Cheyenne Brady of the Center for Native American Youth; Robbie Bond, a youth leader and founder of Kids Speak for Parks; Anupama Joshi of the Center for Science in the Public Interest; Tigran Nahabedian, a youth leader, Junior Ranger and National Park Ambassador; and Ambreen Tariq, founder of Brown People Camping. We’re so grateful to all of our Advisors for offering their time and perspective to support OAK’s mission.

Honored Member of Congress. OAK Advisor Tigran Nahabedian led a group of children from the Art & Wilderness Institute to honor Representative Katie Porter with an OAK Tree Award for her leadership. During the event, youth spoke with the Congresswoman about why the outdoors mattered to them and shared their ideas for protecting the environment. Porter has been a champion for the Every Kid Outdoors program, which ensures free access to national parks and public lands for 4th graders and their families. Porter’s efforts have led to a $25 million investment in the program in the House Interior Appropriations bill. We are still waiting on the Senate to pass the FY23 budget. You can help make sure an investment in the Every Kid Outdoors program is included.

Celebrated Biden Administration Initiatives. OAK celebrated the Biden administration’s launch of a whole-of-government approach to promote equitable access to nature, bringing together 10 federal departments and agencies to strengthen “investments in communities who have been locked out of the benefits nature provides.” We were also pleased to see President Biden re-launch the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation (FICOR), which will work to create more safe, affordable and equitable opportunities for people to get outdoors. FICOR was originally created in 2011 and worked to establish the Every Kid Outdoors Pass before the council was suspended. Both of these efforts are part of Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative which promises to protect 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030 while expanding access to nature for communities who have been historically excluded and marginalized.

None of these milestones would be possible without the passion and dedication of our staff, members, advisors, agency partners, supporters, and a growing base of grassroots advocates. I am so grateful to everyone in the OAK family who makes a difference everyday fighting for a future where all kids can experience the benefits of nature and live healthy and full lives. 

A Gala Sendoff, and an Important Reminder that Nature Heals

by Ayodele Abdul-Hadi, OAK Advisor

Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp (left) poses with Ayodele Abdul-Hadi at the 2022 Glamp Out gala.
Credit: Ayodele Abdul-Hadi

Right on the waterfront, with a serene view of the sunset and San Francisco city skyline, I was part of a group of about 200 people attending the first in-person Outdoor Afro annual Glamp Out since the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020.

The evening was a beautiful celebration of Black joy, collective healing and the great outdoors.

I was fortunate enough to attend the event along with a few other staff members from Sierra Club chapters across the U.S., including Vedia Barnett, senior campaign representative with Military Outdoors, and Alexis Schwartz, the Colorado chapter’s conservation organizer. It was so wonderful to meet in person after months of being on weekly Outdoors for All team calls. 

Pastor Betty Clark opened the event with a beautiful blessing and reminder that “nature heals and nourishes the community,” setting the tone for the rest of the evening.

We enjoyed a powerful performance from Youth Speaks poet and author Ashia Ajani and a lively dance from Oakland dance troupe TURFinc. Then we heard from the founder herself, Rue Mapp. She began her speech by acknowledging that Outdoor Afro was created to provide a space for Black joy to flourish in nature and that this evening was a celebration of that. Especially during the past few years, Outdoor Afro served as a healing and refuge for many people in the Black community.

Her speech was powerful, and a few of her words stood out to me. She said towards the end of her speech that, despite all the uncertainty that COVID-19 brought, “nature never closes,” which was an important reminder of the healing that the great outdoors provided folks when many of our other places of healing were closed. She ended her speech by saying, “Space is power and we all deserve to take up space in nature.” 

It was also a fitting end to my time interning for the Sierra Club. Her words particularly resonated with me because the mission of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) is geared towards access to nature and green spaces outdoors.

In my time as the OAK intern, I gained a deeper understanding of the federal policy process on a variety of important campaigns including Transit to Trails, Outdoors for All, and Every Kid Outdoors. I was also able to develop meaningful relationships across OAK membership with various organizations including The Wilderness Society and Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors. I also learned more extensively about the nationwide ecosystem of nonprofits working to improve outdoor access to nature. 

I am so grateful to have been a part of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, and as I work toward a future career in environmental law, the Sierra Club will always hold a special place in my heart.


Our Kids Are Facing a Mental Health Crisis, Nature Can Help

by Jackie Ostfeld and Monica Lopez Magee

Youth environmental activists hike in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. in May 2022.
Youth environmental activists hike in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. in May 2022.
Photo by Chris Rief

As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, children and youth continue to face upheavals in their family, social, and educational lives. Their daily routines are disrupted by exposure alerts and quarantines, they may be unable to see friends and family, and the back-and-forth of virtual and in-person schooling is taking a toll. It’s unclear when, if ever, we’ll be able to get back to normal.

Cut off from networks of support and stability, our youth are experiencing almost unprecedented exposure to trauma and loneliness. According to mental health professionals, the rates of depression and anxiety observed in young people are soaring. In December 2021, Surgeon-General Vivek Murthy declared that the United States had entered a “youth mental health crisis.” 

It will take time to address the effects of this crisis, but there is one effective measure we can take right now: get kids outdoors. We know that exposure to nature can help relieve depression and anxiety, and even help heal trauma. Multiple studies show that spending time outdoors has positive effects on physical and mental health. For young people in particular, nature exposure can boost concentration, improve social skills and even help them perform better in school. 

But getting into nature isn’t as simple as a walk in the park for many families. About 100 million people in the U.S., including 28 million children, don’t live within 10 minutes of a high-quality park or green space. The barriers can get higher when you go from a local park to a national park. Visiting these crown jewels of public lands can be an undertaking for any family, but such a trip is out of reach for the many families who cannot afford the travel, lodging, and entrance expenses they require. 

One program is bringing our national parks into reach for millions of young people. Since 2015, the Every Kid Outdoors program (EKO) has granted a full year of free entry to hundreds of national parks, lands, and waters for all fourth graders and their families. This simple program enables every fourth grader, regardless of ability to pay, the opportunity to establish a direct connection with nature — connections that can last a lifetime.

EKO has helped thousands of families take their first trip to a national park, and it continues to grow in popularity. Moreover, the program supports local economies in communities near our national parks. In the recently passed federal budget, Congress and the White House confirmed their support for EKO, officially including it in the budget for the first time. Despite their ideological differences, Democrats and Republicans agree it’s essential for children and youth to experience nature.

While Congress affirmed its support for EKO, that support doesn’t always translate to funding. In fact, since its creation nearly a decade ago, EKO has never had adequate funding to address the inequalities that prevent many youth and families from experiencing nature, like a lack of safe public transit options to public lands, limited nearby programming at parks, and the often nonexistent infrastructure for the disabled community. This is part of what we call the “nature equity gap.” It means that, while the benefits of nature are universal, access to nature is not, and that can have damaging effects on people and communities. Unfortunately, our national parks are not immune to the nature equity gap.

Time in nature offers all of us a chance to restore and heal from the stress and negative impacts of things like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, social unrest, and other crises happening around the world. Supporting EKO and helping the program reach its full potential will ensure that the ability to pay isn’t a prerequisite for experiencing public lands, allowing more families and young people to recover from grief, disruption, and trauma — and develop connections to the natural world that will nurture new generations of environmental advocates.


Jackie Ostfeld is the Director of the Sierra Club’s Outdoors For All campaign, and Co-founder and Chair of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. 

Monica Lopez Magee is Senior Vice President for Cities and Community Engagement at the Children & Nature Network. Monica serves on OAK’s steering committee.

California Rep. Katie Porter Receives Outdoors Alliance for Kids Award

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Contact:
Natasha Blakely, natasha.blakely@sierraclub.org;
Lindsay Reilly, lindsay.reilly@mail.house.gov

IRVINE, CA – Yesterday, the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) recognized Rep. Katie Porter of California’s 45th district for her leadership in connecting kids to the outdoors. OAK is a partnership of over a hundred organizations, including the Sierra Club and REI, with a goal of facilitating those connections.

“Our country is blessed with beautiful public lands and national parks, especially right here in California,” said Rep. Katie Porter. “These treasures belong to every American, and every American should have the opportunity to enjoy them. I’m a proud champion of the Every Kid Outdoors program because it teaches young people about the importance of our natural resources, makes it easier for families to take affordable vacations, and boosts local economies.”

The OAK Tree Award is an annual award presented by the Outdoors Alliance for Kids to decision-makers leading the way in ensuring outdoor equity for kids and families. Rep. Porter has been a champion for the Every Kid Outdoors program, which ensures free access to national parks and public lands for 4th graders and their families. Porter’s efforts have led to a $25 million investment in the program in the House Interior Appropriations bill. 

“I have been very fortunate to advocate and promote the Every Kid in a Park and Every Kid Outdoors programs,” said OAK Youth Leader and Advisor Tigran Nahabedian. “Time in the outdoors teaches important lessons and skills and is vital to childhood development. It is a well-known fact that spending time outdoors has positive mental and physical health benefits. For young people, nature can be especially powerful. Physical activity and exposure to the outdoors improves performance in school, engages children, builds healthier bodies and boosts confidence leading to greater opportunities and success later in life. We are fortunate to have organizations committed to our youth and champions like Representative Katie Porter.”

OAK Advisor Tigran Nahabedian delivering OAK Tree Award to Rep. Katie Porter; photo courtesy of Rep. Porter’s office.

The award ceremony was held at Rep. Porter’s office in Irvine where Nahabedian presented the award to Rep. Porter. Also in attendance were children from the Art and Wilderness Institute and their parents as well as members of OAK. 

“It is our human right to access wilderness areas,” said Art and Wilderness Institute Director Sama Wareh. “With mental health cases on the rise, our best preventative medicine is going to be spending more time outdoors and less time inside. To do that, we need easy access to open space. Besides, the historical mark of an intelligent and compassionate society is by how much open space we value. In addition, climate change is a reality, a shameful one, we have left for this next generation to deal with. The least we can do is preserve and restore habitat. It’s our duty as inheritors of this earth.”

Youth from Art & Wilderness Institute sharing their ideas for getting outdoors and protecting the environment with Rep. Katie Porter; photo courtesy of Rep. Porter’s office.

The Every Kid Outdoors program has been one of the focuses of OAK, alongside other programs geared toward improving the health and wellness of both children and the planet through access to nature.

“Young people and children need early and consistent exposure to nature to support their healthy physical and mental development,” said OAK co-founder and chair and Sierra Club Outdoors for All campaign director Jackie Ostfeld. “The Every Kid Outdoors program is a vital part of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids’ efforts to ensure that children are getting that exposure. Increasing investments in the program, like Rep. Porter seeks to do, will ensure Every Kid Outdoors reaches kids with the greatest barriers to access.”

The attending children had the opportunity at the event to share about why access to the outdoors is important for children like them. 

“Time outside and our connection to nature is fundamental to the social, cultural and physical health and well-being of all people,” said REI Tustin Store Manager Eric Piper. “But millions of Americans lack access to nature and thriving outdoor spaces. Scores of others do not feel safe or a sense of belonging outdoors–stemming from ongoing systems of inequity, injustice and racism. The REI Co-operative is here to create the largest positive climate community and enable equitable access to the outdoors.”

Additional photos from event are available at request.

About the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK)

OAK is a national strategic partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with a common interest in connecting children, youth, and families with the outdoors. The members of OAK are brought together by the belief that the wellness of current and future generations, the health of our planet and communities and the economy of the future depend on humans having a personal, direct, and life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors. OAK brings together more than 100 businesses and organizations to address the growing divide between children, youth, and the outdoors. http://www.outdoorsallianceforkids.org

About Rep. Katie Porter

Congresswoman Porter has been a consistent advocate for environmental protection throughout her time in Congress. She’s introduced legislation to raise fees on polluters extracting from public lands, spearheaded bipartisan efforts to improve disaster response and resiliency, and repeatedly urged her colleagues to take bold, urgent action to fight the climate crisis. In 2021, she chaired a Congressional hearing and listening session in Orange County on a major oil leak off the coast of Huntington Beach.

How a Young Generation of Outdoors Leaders Are Expanding Access to Nature

by Jackie Ostfeld, OAK Founder & Chair

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (center) meets with youth leaders and members of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids on May 18, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Jackie Ostfeld)

Sunshine and 80 degrees in Washington, DC – you couldn’t have asked for a better day to talk about the importance of nature. After a two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Outdoors Alliance for Kids’ (OAK) annual OAK Week relaunched in person on Tuesday. Youth environmental leaders gathered in our nation’s capital to meet with decision-makers from the Biden administration, career outdoor professionals, and activists to experience one of the most stunning urban green spaces and discuss the future of outdoor access in this country.

Guided by experienced park rangers, the youth-led group set out on a sunny spring morning in Rock Creek Park, the largest national park in Washington, DC and a treasured resource for area residents. DC may be known for its government buildings and monuments to our country, but Rock Creek Park is a true green jewel for the city.

Washingtonians are fortunate to have Rock Creek Park in their proverbial backyards, but many people in the US don’t have access to such nearby nature opportunities. Today, about 100 million people, including 28 million kids, don’t live within 10 minutes of a high-quality park. Youth leaders like Robbie Bond, Lily Kay, Tigran Nahabedian, and Uriel Llanas are working to change that.

After the hike, they gathered for a conversation with representatives from the US Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the importance of youth access to the outdoors and what the Biden administration is doing to improve it through the America the Beautiful initiative. This initiative seeks to protect 30 percent of all lands and waters in the US by 2030 to stave off the worst effects of climate change, while ensuring that all communities benefit from access to nature and green spaces.

This is especially important to Robbie, Lily, Tigran, and Uriel who each spoke about their own experiences in the outdoors, their efforts to expand access to nature for all kids, and why this matters to their generation. Their message to the president was clear: We must preserve these places and protect more of our landscapes so their generation and generations to come can enjoy them and establish life-long connections with nature.

Before leaving Rock Creek Park for the day, the group spoke with a panel of environmental advocates on how to transform their passion for the outdoors into careers. I have to agree with Dr. Homer Wilkes, Under Secretary at the US Department of Agriculture, “we have a very, very, very bright future.”

The day ended with a celebration of the decision-makers and activists who are working to ensure all kids, regardless of ZIP code, are able to create direct connections with nature. Sen. Alex Padilla, (D-CA), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) were all recognized for their leadership on increasing youth access to the outdoors.

Before heading out of town, these youth leaders joined OAK members for a day on Capitol Hill advocating for outdoor equity legislation. In between working the phones and pounding the pavement, the group had the pleasure of a visit from Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), one of the main champions of the Transit to Trails Act, which would increase public transportation between communities and public lands.

Access to the outdoors is vital for youth development. The longer it takes for a young person to have their first connection with nature, the less likely they are to ever have one. Exposing kids to the outdoors has immediate benefits that turn into life-long habits of environmental advocacy. Robbie, Lily, Tigran, and Uriel know that first hand.

My one wish is that every child has the RIGHT to outdoor access and public lands

by Tigran Nahabedian, OAK Advisor


Time in nature teaches important lessons and skills, and is vital to our children’s development. But right now, access to parks and public lands is not equal across our communities, and climate change is increasingly affecting the green spaces we do have. One hundred million people in the US – including 28 million kids – cannot walk to a park from their homes. This is the so-called “nature equity gap.” The disadvantages resulting from deprivation from nature are no less serious than illiteracy for future success; imagine living in fear of the outdoors or never learning to swim.

Tell Congress that every community deserves equitable access to nature so they can truly thrive.
Send your message to Congress now!


Junior Ranger Tigran Nahabedian | Photo Courtesy of Tigran Nahabedian

I visited Channel Islands National Park for the first time when I was five years old. During that trip, one of the park naturalists gave me a Junior Ranger book, and I was hooked. It was one of the best days of my life and it inspired my life-long love of nature and our public lands.

Even though I went to a school that promoted getting outside and camping, none of my friends had heard of Channel Islands or the Junior Ranger program! It astounded me that so many kids didn’t know about national parks or what was even in their own backyards. From that moment on, I made it my mission to improve outdoor access for kids like me.

Now I need your help! Congress is considering several bills that are critical to expand outdoor access and help kids experience the benefits of nature. We need to make it clear to Congress that our youth MUST be able to access and make connections with nature!

I know firsthand that places like the Channel Islands National Park (with some of the earliest human remains in North America), Manassas National Battlefield, the Statue of Liberty, Belmont-Paul House, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and Manzanar National Historic Site (which serves as a cautionary tale of allowing our American ideals to slip), and so many more are symbols of our history. 

Our public lands are places where we can preserve the cultures, histories, and traditions of the communities connected to these places. That is why we need to call on Congress to help get more kids and families outdoors!

My one wish is that every child has the RIGHT to explore the country’s public lands and make the connections with nature that have helped define my life. I truly believe this would not only benefit kids themselves, but also our nation as a whole. There is no better way to learn about history and what makes our country and public lands unique than by going out there and seeing them firsthand.

We need to tell Congress to close the nature equity gap so that more kids can experience the benefits and beauty of nature!

Thank you for all you do,

Tigran Nahabedian
Advisor, Outdoors Alliance for Kids
Junior Ranger, National Parks Ambassador, and Board Member for the Channel Islands Park Foundation
P.S. Don’t forget to include a personal message about why nature equity and outdoor access for kids is important to you!

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[RE-BLOG] The Outdoors Alliance for Kids is Pushing for National Change

This blog was written by and originally published by the National Recreation Foundation

two kids run with arms out

The Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) is a coalition of organizations from across the country that are united around the common cause of getting kids outside and more connected to nature. Committed to multi-sector collaboration, strategic partnerships, and justice, equity, and inclusion, OAK is comprised of over 100 member organizations from environmental, transportation, business, public health, youth development, and community engagement sectors. While the Sierra Club hosts this collaboration, the member organizations drive OAK’s work and set the agenda for developing national policy infrastructure that supports children, youth, and families in the outdoors.

kids explore a garden

One of OAK’s central areas of focus is equitable access. Kids who are most likely to suffer the consequences of a lack of access to nature are prioritized in OAK’s current work. Millions of children in the U.S. don’t have the ability to safely walk to a park within a half mile of their home. While this issue has socioeconomic connections, we also know that children of color are far more likely to live in nature-deprived neighborhoods than their white peers. OAK believes access to nature is a human right and wants to close this nature gap through urban planning, pro-greenspace policies, and investment in public transit projects.

kids play soccer in a park

In addition to focusing on supporting the growth of nearby nature through neighborhood parks and greenways, OAK also is involved in movements to make public lands, such as national and state parks, more accessible to kids and families. OAK wants parks and public lands to be welcoming to all kids. This includes the removal of racist or derogatory place names from public lands, support for national programs like Every Kid Outdoors, and investment in building recreation competency among youth (e.g. water and trail safety classes).

a child plays on a playground

OAK has an open membership. Any organization working to get kids outside and connected to the natural world can join as a way to help expand sustainable funding and access information and resources. This includes opportunities to engage in policy advocacy, support to access federal funding, and connection with an engaged network of other organizations navigating the complex landscape of policy and community-based work. OAK knows that the folks doing the work on the ground ultimately have more insight into both the challenges facing kids and the solutions to help get them outside. OAK strives to learn from community organizations and understand the issues on the ground to inform their national advocacy work.

two kids play on a lawn

Coming out of the pandemic, we know that access to the outdoors is key to youth mental and physical health. We also know that many kids in our country do not have access to the outdoors due to structural inequities. OAK wants to help draw connections across organizations and tell a new story about youth in the outdoors, one that moves the needle from a narrative of nature-deprived communities to one of nature-rich kids and healthy families. 

RELEASE: Omnibus Spending Package is a Victory for Outdoor Equity for Youth

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Contact: Ian Brickey: (202) 675-6270, ian.brickey@sierraclub.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, President Joe Biden signed the FY2022 omnibus spending package into law. The bill provides much-needed funding increases for vital government agencies and essential services, reversing years of cuts under the previous administration. The package also features important funding for the outdoors and nature access, including support for programs to protect community forests; develop parks and save green spaces in urban neighborhoods; and eliminate barriers preventing children, youth, and families from accessing public lands and waters.

In response, members of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) released the following statements:

“We applaud the bipartisan support for nature access, climate and conservation workforce, and outdoors funding in the FY2022 omnibus spending package. Hispanic Access Foundation believes we have a responsibility to future generations to leave a legacy of stewardship, clean air and water, accessible nature, and a liveable climate. Latinos need a future where every child can breathe clean air, and every family has green spaces and clean water to play in and make memories,” said Maite Arce, President & CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation.

“We applaud members of Congress for helping us build communities where all people can experience the benefits of nature,” said Jackie Ostfeld, founder and chair of OAK and director of Sierra Club’s Outdoors for All campaign. “The funding approved today will make it easier for children, youth, and families regardless of race, geography, or income to establish the direct connections with nature that are essential both to life-long health and for developing the next generation of environmental advocates. The programs included in this package are a down-payment on the future of the outdoors, and we are excited to build upon it.”

“At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well lived. That’s why we were pleased to see bipartisan support for investments in quality local parks, climate and conservation workforce, and opportunities for kids and their families to access national parks,” said Taldi Harrison, Head of Government Affairs at REI Co-op.

“As Latino Outdoors prepares for the inaugural Semillitas (Little Seeds) Outdoors celebration of children in the outdoors at the end of April, we thank members of Congress for demonstrating their commitment to making nature more equitably accessible to kids and families through significant investments in the omnibus package for parks in economically disadvantaged communities, the Every Kid Outdoors program, urban forestry, and more,” said Luis Villa, Executive Director of Latino Outdoors.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE OMNIBUS PACKAGE:

  • $110 million for the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program: Communities of color are three times less likely to have access to nearby nature than white neighborhoods, and the parks and green spaces in wealthier neighborhoods are often larger than the parks and green spaces in less-affluent communities. ORLP provides direct support for building new and maintaining existing parks in urban communities that often lack green space and tree coverage.
  • $36 million for the USFS Urban and Community Forestry program, and $4 million in congressionally directed spending for urban forestry projects: Tree planting in urban communities decrease the effects of the climate crisis by increasing tree canopy cover within these neighborhoods, mitigating the urban heat island effect, which can raise temperatures in cities by as much as 10-15 degrees over surrounding areas. 
  • $20 million for activities that support the mission of the Civilian Climate Corps: A new generation of CCC employees could increase access to the outdoors for all, ensuring those who come after them enjoy a direct connection to nature on a thriving planet. Access to nature and spending time outdoors is connected to improving mental and physical health and wellness, and protecting and expanding urban parks and green spaces is vital to achieving the 30×30 goal.
  • Funding and support for the Every Kid Outdoors (EKO) program: EKO currently provides fourth graders and their families with free access to national parks and public lands and waters. Funding for EKO would provide safe transportation for children and families to public lands and waters, offer more robust outdoors programming, and increase access to the outdoors for people with disabilities.
  • $1 million in funding for the CDC Drowning Prevention program.

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.

About the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK)

OAK is a national strategic partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with a common interest in connecting children, youth, and families with the outdoors. The members of OAK are brought together by the belief that the wellness of current and future generations, the health of our planet and communities and the economy of the future depend on humans having a personal, direct, and life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors. OAK brings together more than 100 businesses and organizations to address the growing divide between children, youth, and the outdoors. www.outdoorsallianceforkids.org 

[RE-BLOG] Our Youth Are in Crisis — They Need the Outdoors

February 3, 2022

By Jackie Ostfeld

This blog was originally posted on SierraClub.org. Photo courtesy of Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management.

For nearly two years, children and youth have seen their family, social, and educational lives disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has cut young people off from their support networks, and rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, and loneliness in our youth are soaring, according to mental health professionals. In December, Surgeon-General Vivek Murthy declared that we had entered a “youth mental health crisis.” 

Getting kids outdoors can help relieve their depression and anxiety, and even help heal their traumas. Study after study shows that spending time in nature has positive effects on physical and mental health. It boosts concentration, improves social skills and even helps kids perform better in school. 

Unfortunately, for many families, getting into nature isn’t as simple as a walk in the park. In fact, an estimated 100 million Americans, including 28 million children, don’t live within 10 minutes of a high-quality park or green space. And visiting a national park, already an undertaking for any family, is out of reach for families who cannot afford the expenses for travel, lodging, and entrance fees. 

One program brings our national parks into reach for millions of youth. Since 2015, the Every Kid Outdoors program has offered free entry to more than 400 national parks and public wilderness areas for all fourth graders and their families. It enables every fourth grader, regardless of ability to pay, the opportunity to build a direct connection with nature.

Tell Congress: Adequately Fund the Every Kid Outdoors Program!

Every Kid Outdoors is simple, popular with families, and supports local economies in communities near our national parks. However, the program has never received adequate funding to address the inequalities that prevent many youth and families from experiencing nature. Public transit to public lands is limited, putting many places out of reach for kids whose families don’t have cars. And without sufficient funding, parks haven’t been able to build the infrastructure that would make them accessible to the disabled community. It’s essential that we address the causes of the “nature equity gap.”

Having a direct connection to nature has never been more essential for our youth, and that’s why it’s critical that Congress give this program the support it needs. Investing in Every Kid Outdoors will ensure that the ability to pay isn’t a prerequisite for experiencing nature. All people, regardless of race, income, or ability, deserve access to nature.

The outdoors offer all of us a chance to rest and heal. We need nature to recover from the physical and mental health effects of COVID-19, and that’s especially true for children. The Every Kid Outdoors program is a simple and commonsense way to give young people another opportunity for healing from the mental and physical stress of the pandemic – that’s why it’s popular with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike. It’s time for Congress to support Every Kid Outdoors.


Jackie Ostfeld is the Director of the Sierra Club’s Outdoors For All campaign, and Founder and Chair of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. 

Senate Hearing Demonstrates Continued Bipartisan Support for Policy that Connects Children, Youth and Families with the Outdoors

December 8, 2021

By Jayni Rasmussen, Senior Campaign Representative, OAK

As the Build Back Better Act moves through Congress, carrying with it billions in potential funding for outdoor access, the Senate is now considering an historic slate of bills that could transform who has access to public lands and waters.  Last week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on a potential package of outdoor recreation bills, focusing on the acute effect the pandemic has had on outdoor recreation, as well as the drastic inequities in access to the outdoors that have been highlighted over the past two years. 

Of the bills discussed, several OAK priorities were included: 


The Outdoors for All Act would create a dedicated source of funding for projects that expand outdoor recreational opportunities in urban and low-income communities across the nation.


The Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act would provide a critical one-time investment of $500 million in the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program (ORLP) to help states and cities build more parks in underserved areas. 

The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act would streamline the permitting process so that more people can access public lands and waters. 


The Environmental Justice in Recreational Permitting Act would direct government agencies to explore ways to make the outdoors more accessible for environmental justice communities. 

The economy and health were major themes in this hearing, from the effect the pandemic has had on the outdoor recreation economy that comprises 2.1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), to effects the pandemic and outdoor access has had on physical and mental health. Senators spoke about concerns for the mental health of children and youth, with more than 28 million children currently lacking access to open space within a ten minute walk, bike or roll from their homes.

Considering the proven mental and physical health benefits of accessing the outdoors, it’s absolutely critical that Congress invest in these common-sense, cost-effective investments that increase outdoor access. As hearing witness Jess Wahl Turner of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable stated, these bills would drive pragmatic solutions that “facilitate more people getting outside, while protecting our natural resources now and for generations to come.”  

So, how exactly can the passage of these bills help close the nature equity gap for children, youth and families? 

Reducing Barriers to Exploring the Outdoors 

Before Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) was elected to Congress, he was a recreational guide in the state, noting during the hearing that he could  “speak from experience how difficult the permitting process is.” Passing the SOAR Act and the Environmental Justice in Recreational Permitting Act would mean more recreational guides as well as outdoor visitors of all backgrounds could have easier access to public lands and waters. A streamlined process will also make it easier and more cost-effective for guides to offer more varied experiences, helping more children and families to safely enjoy the outdoors and learn recreational skills.

Increased Investment in Youth & Family Outdoor Access

As the Trust for Public Land found in a 2020 report, parks serving primarily nonwhite populations are half the size of parks that serve white populations, and nearly five times as crowded. Unfortunately, low-income and racially and ethnically diverse communities often receive significantly less investment in their outdoor spaces. The Outdoors for All Act and Parks Jobs and Equity Act would address this by focusing increased investments in building and improving parks in these communities. 

OAK is excited to see Congress pass the Build Back Better Act so that next steps on these and other bills can be taken to increase equitable access to the outdoors for children, youth and families. 

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About the author:

Jayni Rasmussen is the Senior Campaign Representative for the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) & Youth at Sierra Club.