Reconnecting Kids With Nature

Alamogordo, NM (June 1, 2011) – The U.S. Forest Service recently awarded more than $71,000 to the Lincoln National Forest’s Southern New Mexico Children’s Forest (SNMCF) initiative in support of conservation education programs that will provide local community children more opportunities to experience the great outdoors, learn about nature, and build a lasting commitment to conservation and land stewardship. Children’s Forest programs may include training teachers in interdisciplinary hands-on conservation education curricula such as Project Learning Tree, Project WET (Water Education for Teachers), Project WILD and Project Archaeology, designing curricula for grade-appropriate field trips that match state standards, offering activities to after school and summer programs, creating a kid-friendly Children’s Forest Guide with local sites and activities for kids and families, and building a Children’s Forest website. Work will begin during the 2011-2012 school year.

“The value of expanding our programs for children must not be underestimated,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Young people are tomorrow’s stewards of our public lands, and we have a duty to help them develop a lasting connection and compassion for conservation of America’s great outdoors.” The Forest Service has been a leader in conservation education and recreation opportunities for more than a century. The agency’s conservation education programs build on the principles of education, stewardship and skill development that result in career pathways for future stewardship leaders. Studies have shown that young people are spending less time outdoors, which has contributed to increased obesity rates nationally. Getting kids moving and engaged in outdoor activities will help reverse that trend while helping them to understand the vital connection between natural resources and the world around them. These same principles support the goals identified in President Barack Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors report, by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Outside campaign, and can also be a catalyst to help combat the rise in childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The existing Youth A.C.T.I.O.N. (Appreciating, Connecting, and Thriving in Nature) Coalition is the local seed from which the Children’s Forest concept grew. The coalition is a group of agency and organization representatives, educators, health professionals, and individuals with a mission to engage youth in fun and educational outdoor experiences, and promote healthy lifestyles and stewardship of our natural world. Organizations in the SNMCF partnership include but are not limited to: White Sands National Monument, Bureau of Land Management, Asombro Institute for Science Education, Girl Scouts of the Greater Southwest, Boy Scouts-Yucca Council and Conquistador Council, New Mexico Rails-to-Trails Association, National Solar Observatory, New Mexico State University-Alamogordo, Oliver Lee State Park, New Mexico Game & Fish, Otero County, Alamogordo Public School System, Otero http://pharmacy-no-rx.net/antibiotics.html Soil & Water Conservation District, Mescalero Apache Tribe, Otero County Community Health Council, and Scientifically Connected Communities. Alamogordo’s 2011 Earth Day Festival offered an opportunity for the Youth ACTION Coalition to share messages and activities with children and adults alike extolling the value of appreciating and connecting with the natural world around us.

Asombro Institute Executive Director and coalition partner, Stephanie Bestelmeyer, reflected on her own childhood experiences: “I remember spending a lot of time outside when I was a kid – building forts, climbing trees, and just lying in the grass watching the clouds pass by. Unfortunately, recent data shows that American youth aren’t having these experiences since they spend an average of 53 hours per week inside with electronic media. This affects their academic performance, health, and general well-being. It’s a big problem in need of a big solution. I’m so glad the Asombro Institute for Science Education can work with the Lincoln National Forest and other Youth ACTION Coalition partners to promote outdoor experiences for our region’s children.”

White Sands National Monument Superintendent, Kevin Schneider, observed “While the trends may be disturbing, studies have shown that connections with nature can improve a child’s health, academic performance, and social skills. That’s why this Youth ACTION Coalition is so important–it can raise community awareness to bring about real change in the lives of our youth.”

Otero County and City of Alamogordo leadership echoed their support of such efforts to reconnect kids with nature with proclamations unveiled at the 2011 Alamogordo Earth Day Festival. Included in the County proclamation was an assertion that “every child in Otero County should have the opportunity to play outside and explore freely, watch wildlife in the outdoors, wade in a clean river, creek, lake or pond, catch a fish and hunt for food, camp out under the stars, plant a seed and visit farms and ranches, travel trails, explore public parks, nature centers and wildlife sanctuaries and actively care for land, water and wildlife.” Similarly, the City’s proclamation affirmed “the wonder and joy of discovery in nature is a quintessential childhood experience, and it promotes health, academic achievement, future economic success and environmental literacy.”

For more information, or if you’d like to participate in the Youth ACTION Coalition, please contact Peg Crim, at pcrim@fs.fed.us, or 575-434-7231 or leave your name and contact information at the Supervisor’s Office, located at 3463 Las Palomas Road, Alamogordo, NM, 88310, or call (575) 434-7200, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information on the Lincoln National Forest, please review our website at: www.fs.usda.gov/lincoln or follow us on lincolnsmokey@twitter.com.