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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