Tag Archives: Healthy Kids Outdoors Act


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.


For Immediate Release                                                                    

Christina Batcheler

Outdoors Alliance for Kids Supports Healthy Kids Outdoors Act to Reconnect Kids with Nature 

New Legislation Aims To Connect Youth with the Outdoors

WASHINGTON (April 23, 2015) – Today, Senator Martin Heinrich (NM) and Congressman Ron Kind (WI) introduced legislation aimed at connecting youth and families with the outdoors. Supported by the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK), the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act would support state, local and federal strategies to reconnect Americans with nature, keep wildlife wild, and support future economic growth and conservation efforts.

Those who do not spend time in nature are less likely to protect it – leaving our nation’s vast national resources at risk. This legislation will give more visibility to the value of alternative and expanding learning environments can have in significantly improving academic achievement in reading, math and science and will encourage kids and families to be active outdoors through unstructured play; outdoor recreation such as camping, hiking, hunting and fishing; public health initiatives; outdoor learning centers; service learning and other programs.

“The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act would enrich the lives of our children, improve public health, and benefit our outdoor recreation economy,” Senator Heinrich said. By taking a holistic approach to improving child well-being, this bill would provide our kids the opportunity to gain hands-on outdoor education, while giving them an introduction and lifelong connection to conservation and all that the natural world has to offer.”

“Young people today spend less time participating in outdoor activities than ever before,” Congressman Kind said. “This bill gives our state and local leaders the tools they need to find new ways to promote active, healthy outdoor lifestyles for kids in Wisconsin and across the nation. If they start early in life, young people will be more likely to care for their health and natural surroundings as adults and then pass those values on to future generations.”

The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act would provide incentives for states to develop dynamic five-year strategies to reconnect children and families to the great outdoors. The act would also compel the President to involve federal agencies and national partners to create a similar plan at the national level and support further research documenting the health, conservation and other benefits of active time spent outdoors in the natural world.

“NWF has worked to connect people with nature for decades so that they will form a deeper desire to protect wildlife and wild places,” said Kevin Coyle, vice president for education and training for National Wildlife Federation.  “We applaud Congressman Kind and Senator Heinrich for introducing legislation to bring families outside seeing wild places on a regular basis.”

“A life-long passion for conservation, hunting and fishing, and active outdoor recreation begins at a young age,” said Scott Kovarovics, executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America. “The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act will help children and families to get outside and experience the natural world around them.”

“Many local and state park agencies currently partner with schools to provide environmental education programs, where trained and knowledgeable staff provide benefits to students and teachers through “hands-on” learning,” said Kevin O’Hara, Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Recreation and Park Association. These experiences stimulate the student’s learning process and curiosity in a manner that cannot be achieved simply through the classroom. By educating our children on the importance of the environment and world around them through “field” experience, we promote the future of conservation, stewardship, as well as advances in environmental science. The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act provides important incentives aimed at reconnecting youth and families with nature and fostering education and stewardship.”

“Childhood is the best time for instilling a love for the outdoors,” says Jackie Ostfeld, Nearby Nature Director at the Sierra Club and Co-Founding Chair of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. “Whether it’s a lack of access to nearby parks and green spaces, safety, school budget cuts or over-scheduled families, today’s kids face many challenges to spending time in nature with repercussions for their health and wellness. The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act will help tear down barriers and encourage greater participation in the natural world. Sierra Club and the Outdoors Alliance for Kids applaud Senator Heinrich and Congressman Kind for their leadership to improve the health and wellness of kids across this nation by getting them active and outdoors.”

“The Y believes that when kids stretch their legs, explore the outdoors, and connect with the world around them, they are improving their physical, social, and emotional health,” said YMCA of the USA Senior Director of Health Partnerships and Policy Katie Adamson. “The confidence and creativity that develop as a result of experiencing nature is an essential component of the holistic development of youth. The Y is excited to work with Senator Heinrich and Congressman Kind on this important effort to connect children and their families with nature.”

“Now, more than ever, it is important to develop new strategies for getting children outdoors reconnecting to nature,” said Paul Sanford, National Director of Recreation Policy for The Wilderness Society. “Kids need stimulating alternatives to smart phones and computers, alternatives that are educational and promote physical activity. The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act will encourage states to provide opportunities for recreation and education in the great outdoors. We thank Senator Heinrich and Congressman Kind for championing this important legislation.”


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 seventy businesses and organizations including the American Heart Association, Children & Nature Network, Izaak Walton League of America, National Recreation and Park Association, National Wildlife Federation, The North Face, Public Lands Service Coalition (a program of The Corps Network), REI, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and the YMCA of the USA to address the growing divide between children, youth and the natural world. For more information: www.outdoorsallianceforkids.org

Wilderness Inquiry outfitted over 400 people with PFDs and paddles to get ready to explore the river in 24' Voyageur canoes

Action on ECHO, OAK Education Pillar, and other news

Outdoor Alliance for Kids

OAK October 2014 Newsletter

OAK ECHO Across America Webinar

ECHO ToolkitOn October 6, OAK’s State and Local Action team lead a webinar on OAK’s ECHO (Every Child Healthy Outdoors) Across Americainitiative.  32 participants joined us for the webinar to learn about the initiative and how to utilize the ECHO Across America Toolkit.

Interested in joining OAK’s State and Local Action team to advocate for ECHO Across America? Contact Alyssa today!

Missed the webinar? A recording of the webinar is now available on OAK’s website.

Action on ECHO 

ECHO Across Albuquerque:

OAK through Conservation Legacy has teamed up with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s new urban wildlife refuge, Valle de Oro to pilot ECHO Across America in Albuquerque. US Fish & Wildlife Service provided $25,000 to support this initiative. An AmeriCorps VISTA will work full-time for one year to coordinate community efforts to facilitate activities in the ECHO Toolkit and document the lessons learned.

Boy playing tagNatural Leaders trained on ECHO Across America Toolkit:

The Children & Nature Network trained diverse, young leaders at their 3rd annual Natural Leaders Network Legacy Camp from July 20-25 at the USFW National Conservation Training Center. Three Natural Leaders from the Place Matters Project were trained to lead an ECHO assessment in their communities (Chicago, Baltimore and Cuyahoga) to discuss strategies with leaders on actions to get kids active outdoors.

ECHO Across America presented at NAAEE Conference:

Alliance for Childhood, National Wildlife Federation and North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) conducted a joint workshop on OAK and the ECHO Across America initiative at the 43rd NAAEE Conference in Ottawa, Canada. 40 participants attended the workshop to learn more on ECHO!

Thanks Alliance for Childhood, Children & Nature Network, Conservation Legacy, NAAEE,NWF, the Place Matters Project, and Valle de Oro Wildlife Refuge for helping OAK get ECHO Across America!

 OAK Education Pillar

OAK Education PillarEducation, one of OAK’s three policy pillars, supports initiatives that provide children and youth with opportunities to learn about — and in — the great outdoors. Through OAK’s education pillar goals, OAK has taken a position to support:

Learn more about OAK’s Education pillar, and contact Alyssa to join OAK’s National Policy Action Team to get involved in developing and implementing OAK’s policy priorities.

OAK Girl OutsideWarm Welcome to OAK’s Newest Members

We are delighted to share that several new members have joined OAK’s membership.

Welcome: American Forests, Discover Outdoors Foundation,Hipcamp, and Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission, Department of Parks and Recreation.

 More than S’mores   

The Girl Scouts Research Institute just released a new report, More Than S’mores: Successes and Surprises in Girl Scouts’ Outdoor Experiences (2014) that found that girl significantly benefit from time spent outdoors. The report highlights that girls who regularly spend time outdoors surpass their peers in environmental stewardship, more readily seek challenges, and are better problem solvers —all important leadership traits!

Read more about the benefit of outdoor experiences for girls.

Share your stories

OAK White House PhotoOne of the key takeaways from OAK’s Annual Membership Meeting is that members want to know more about other members events, activities, success stories and lessons learned so that we can better work together to get kids outdoors!  

OAK’s monthly newsletter, blog and social media accounts are a great way to share your organization’s experiences with getting kids outdoors with other OAK members.

Share your stories with OAK today!

OAK Upcoming Events Calendar

November 6-8, 2014 Outdoors Empowered Network’s National Summit

Is your organization hosting a conference or event that you would like featured on OAK’s event calendar? Submit your request now!

 Help Us Grow OAK

Do you know another business or organization that share’s OAK’s mission to expand the number and quality of opportunities for children, youth and families to connect with the outdoors? Encourage them to become a member and refer them to our Join OAK page!

Time to Create an ECHO Across America: Every Child Healthy Outdoors

guest blog by Sierra Club Nearby Nature Director and OAK Chair Jackie Ostfeld

originally published in the Huffington Post

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just released the 2014 State Indicator Report on Physical Activity, and it’s bleak. The state by state analysis is a stark reminder that most kids in America are not getting enough physical activity.

According to the report, only 27.1 percent of youth in the United States are meeting the national physical aerobic activity guidelines, which call for 60 minutes of moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. In some states, like Texas, less than one-fifth of young people are meeting these guidelines.

Unfortunately, these numbers are less surprising when coupled with the fact that most Americans simply do not live within walking distance of a park. According to the state by state report, only 39.2 percent of the U.S. population lives within a half mile of a park. If you want to see how your city fares on park access, look no further than the Trust for Public Land’s Park Score, which ranks cities on park acreage, access, investments and other metrics. The proximity and safety of parks are increasingly being recognized as a contributing factor to the overall health of a community, yet many of our children don’t have basic neighborhood access.

It’s not all bad news. The CDC’s report also found that when you combine parks, community centers and sidewalks, 54.5 percent of youth have neighborhood access to safe places for physical activity. While I, find that number to be woefully inadequate, it is a slight improvement over the CDC’s 2010 findings that only 50 percent of youth had neighborhood-level access to physical activity opportunities.

The report also took a look at the school and child care environments and found that several states are beginning to provide policy guidance to enhance physical education and activity. For example, 30 states have provided policy guidance on recess, and 34 have provided guidance on walking and biking to school. Twenty-seven states have adopted some form of complete streets policy, designed to make walking and biking safer and easier.

While progress may be being made in some areas, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that all kids and youth are meeting the daily physical activity guidelines, and perhaps even more work to be done to ensure that getting outdoors is a part of that daily routine.

That is why my colleagues and I at the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) created the Every Child Healthy Outdoors (ECHO) Across America Toolkit. OAK is a national strategic partnership of over 70 businesses and organizations from diverse sectors with a common goal to connect children, youth and families with the outdoors. The ECHO Across America Toolkit was designed by a broad set of OAK members and includes major contributions from the YMCA of the USA, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Children & Nature Network, Conservation Legacy, the Public Lands Service Coalition, and the Alliance for Childhood, among others.


ECHO Across America provides state and local groups the tools needed to develop strong and diverse alliances and a plan to get kids and youth outdoors. The Toolkit includes resources for organizing a meeting of non-profit, community, business, and government leaders in a state or city to conduct an assessment of existing policies and initiatives. ECHO also helps alliances set policy goals for getting kids and families outdoors and provides advocacy resources for engaging governors and mayors to advance those goals. The Toolkit takes a multi-sector approach that includes strategies in education, health, transportation, the built environment, conservation and environmental stewardship.

At the national level, Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and Congressman Ron Kind of Wisconsin have introduced legislation that complements the ECHO Across America strategy. The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act is one of several pieces of legislation aimed at improving kids’ access to nature and the outdoors. The bill would provide incentives for states to develop multi-sector plans, similar to those recommended in OAK’s ECHO Across America Toolkit, to ensure that kids and families have opportunities and encouragement to get outdoors. The bill has broad support from OAK members.

There is still a long way to go to ensure that every child has opportunities to get healthy outdoors and we could use your help. If you represent a business or a non-profit organization that believes all children and youth should have opportunities to get outdoors, consider joining the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. Download OAK’s ECHO Across America Toolkit and see how you can advance Every Child Healthy Outdoors strategies, today.

Looking for some simpler ways to get involved? Start by letting your member of Congress know that you support the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act. Next, take a kid outdoors! Then, make known your efforts and ideas to engage more young people in the outdoors by blogging, writing a letter to the editor of your local paper, or sharing them in the comments below and on OAK’s Facebook page. Collectively, we can create an ECHO Across America!

OAK Celebrates Great Outdoors America Week and other News

OAK july e-newsletter

OAK July Newsletter

OAK Celebrates Great Outdoors America Week

June 23 -26, 2014 marked the annual Great Outdoors America Week, where 100s of advocates descended upon Washington, DC, to remind our nation’s leaders of the importance of America’s great outdoors. OAK celebrated GO Week by hosting our second annual  Youth and America’s Great Outdoors Event. Dozens of OAK members joined over 400 youth for a festival along the Anacostia River at Bladensburg Waterfront Park in Maryland.

Gina Quote 2photo collage 2 Big thanks to Minneapolis-based adventure travel organization and OAK member, Wilderness Inquiry for running the show. Thanks to them and dozens of OAK members, there was no shortage of activities to keep the 400+ youth active and engaged. Stations included canoeing, rock climbing, mountain biking, tent pitching, falconry, along with an array of educational demonstrations and games all centered around nature and the outdoors.

OAK Go Week AwardeesDuring OAK’s Youth event, leaders from across the country weighed in on the importance of getting kids outdoors. Speakers included: Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy; National League of Cities President and Mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota Chris Coleman; Chief of Staff for EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Gwen Keyes Fleming; Interior Secretary Jewell’s Senior Advisor David Jayo; Acting Under Secretary of Transportation 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.

A huge thanks to all OAK members and friends who pitched in, including American Camp AssociationAmerican ForestsAmerican Heart AssociationAmerican Hiking SocietyAnacostia Watershed SocietyAppalachian Trail Conservancy,Children & Nature NetworkCity of Saint Paul Office of the MayorCity Parks AllianceThe Corps NetworkEarth Conservation CorpsInternational Mountain Biking AssociationIzaak Walton League of AmericaNational League of Cities,National Park Service,  National Park TrustNational Parks Conservation AssociationNational Recreation and Park AssociationNOLS Expedition DenaliNorth American Association for Environmental EducationThe Outdoor FoundationPatuxent Research RefugePrince George’s County Department of Environmental ResourcesPublic Lands Service CoalitionRails-to-Trails Conservancy,  REIRiver Management SocietySierra ClubSierra Club FoundationUrban Waters Federal PartnershipUS Army Corps of EngineersUS Bureau of Land ManagementUS Environmental Protection AgencyUS Fish and Wildlife ServiceUS Department of the InteriorUS Department of TransportationWilderness InquiryThe Wilderness Society and the YMCA of the USA.

Mayor Coleman Quote

OAK Go Week CanoeingGreat Outdoors America Week wrapped up on June 25 at a Congressional reception at the historic Mott House, where The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club and other conservation groups, including several OAK partner members, honored three members of Congress for their conservation achievements: Reps. Rush Holt (D-NJ), George Miller (D-CA) and Jim Moran (D-VA).

It was the perfect way to cap off a successful week of activities including: OAK’s Youth and America’s Great Outdoors Event; the launch of the 50 for 50 Campaign: a series of 50 conservation corps projects in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act; Capitol Hill briefing on building diverse nature-smart leaders led by Children & Nature Network; and a screening of NOLS and Expedition Denali’s film about the first African American team to climb Alaska’s Denali. 

Read more about GO Week and OAK’s Youth event on OAK’s BlogThe Corp Network, the Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society.

OAK supports Urban Waters Federal Partnership

OAK Urban Waters at EventThe Urban Waters Federal Partnership is a partnership of 14 federal agencies being led by EPA, DOI and USFS. The Partnership is working to engage urban populations in restoring their rivers and surrounding neighborhoods, improving access for water recreation, and helping create a network of parks and greenspaces connecting downtown cores with suburban and rural areas, creating opportunities for improving health and wellness. The Partnership provides a powerful means of reaching into our cities and metropolitan areas to engage all residents—especially youth—in conservation and stewardship of nature where they live, work, and play. 

The Urban Waters Federal Partnership participated in OAK’s Youth and America’s Great Outdoors Event. This event was just the start of ongoing collaboration between OAK and the partnership. 

OAK Weighs in on Capitol Hill

Thanks to all the OAK members who signed onto support OAK’s recent policy positions. In the last few months, we’ve urged Congress to support appropriations for programs that get kids outdoors and to support the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act, the No Child Left Inside Act, the Public Lands Service Corps Act and active transportation.

Sierra Club issued an action alert on the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act to its membersFeel free to use this action alert or create your own to weigh in with your members of Congress!

ICYMI OAK Members Have Been Blogging

OAK NRPA Kid CampingKick Nature-Deficit Disorder to the Curb: Celebrating Great Outdoors Month, OAK member guest blog by Jackie Ostfeld, Sierra Club

5 Tips for Camping with Kids, OAK member guest blog by Jessica Culverhouse, National Recreation and Park Association

Thriving in the Great Outdoors, Guest blog co-authored by Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association and Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club

Organizations Come Together to Celebrate Kids and Youth in the Great Outdoors, OAK Member Guest Blog by Tia Watkins, Sierra Club

Are you missing OAK’s blogs when they are posted? Be sure to subscribe to follow OAK’s blog today!

Help Us Grow OAK

Do you know another business or organization that share’s OAK’s mission to expand the number and quality of opportunities for children, youth and families to connect with the outdoors? Encourage them to become a member and refer them to our Join OAK page!