Exactly a year ago, more than 500 diverse youth from all 50 states gathered for Outdoor Nation's kick-off summit to identify the barriers that prevent youth from connecting with the outdoors. The momentum from the event prompted the leadership team to write a declaration and spur the “for youth by youth” movement from vision to reality.
Kicking off a five-city Regional Summit tour, the 2011 National Congress of 50 youthful leaders and outdoor enthusiasts met again in New York City June 22-23 to create a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, called the framework for Outdoor Nation's future. With a new logo, website and the same buzzing energy level, Outdoor Nation has become a unique youth movement.
“I took a leap of faith knowing that this (movement) was different from the start, but I didn't know how different and how powerful it would be,” said Chris Fanning, executive director of the Outdoor Foundation.
“A year ago, I was on stage talking to the kids of the movement,” she said. “This year it is the young people (doing the talking). The (creation of the) declaration was the moment the leadership changed. It is the first 100-percent ‘for youth by youth’ document.”
The leadership change was a necessity for Larry Selzer, president of The Conservation Fund, one of the title sponsors. “It would be a bigger risk not to turn the reins over (to youth). Outdoor Nation is about developing the next generation of leaders that understand the importance of the outdoors and access to it.”
The importance of the outdoors was no mystery to many delegates of the Congress, this year at Floyd Bennett State Park. As the microphone was passed around before work began, delegates set the tone:
>> Janice, from Hawaii, was tired of seeing species disappear. “We have stuff in Hawaii that doesn't exist anywhere else. If we lose them in Hawaii, we lose them everywhere.”
>> Forest, a delegate from Texas, had other reasons for wanting to make a difference. “My family sparked my interest in the outdoors. When we moved to the city (in Houston), I realized that most kids didn't have that opportunity.”
>> James, from Atlanta, was similarly tired of seeing minorities deprived of access to the outdoors.
With diversity in motivation, origin and background, delegates to the National Congress got down to business. Even after working through lunch, they found it difficult to refine and pare down all their thoughts to a list of five rights, six responsibilities and three issues considered top. The room was visibly jazzed and ready to jump into solutions.
Amanda, from Indiana, saw a need for the variety of ideas and debate. “All people adopt ways of life differently and we need to come from all angles.” progressive resource.” Nitish, an Outdoor Nation ambassador from California, said he backed that idea. Outdoor Nation, he said, “will always evolve because it will be the youth voice, and that voice is a progressive resource."
Brooke Shinsky from The North Face and The Conservation Fund’s Selzer said they saw that the energy and momentum of the congress were well worth the investment. “If youth are behind this, it will be successful. This is a movement whose time has come,” Shinsky said. Selzer said he was so inspired that he was going to commit $2,500 to each of the top three solutions.
Delegates refined solutions into game plans. Three plans emerged as top:
>> “Making outdoor sports like climbing and mountain biking fully integrated school sports”
>> “Creating a toolkit for sustainable local youth park communities that will shape and care for their parks,” and
>> “Organizing local outdoor information with youth-targeted videos and interactive maps.”
Tyler, a delegate from Philadelphia and a member of the group that created the toolkit item, said he was surprised by the commitment of the sponsors. “I expected that they would tell (us) that we have the power to change things, but the money makes it for real. I never expected to create a program that will run -- and it will. My group is committed.”
Wolfing down sandwiches well ahead of the hour-long lunch break, delegates formed a circle to play “ninja.” Around the circle kids bobbed and weaved using their one chosen “ninja” move to try to tag their neighbor’s hand to tag them out.
“Look at those kids,” observer David Jay of REI said. “That is why we are going to remain true and committed for the long haul. They're excited, jazzed, practical, and we've equipped them for action.”
The summer started strongly with the national kick-off event, said Ivan Levin, director of Outdoor Nation. Next up are the regionals. The SNEWS Youth Team will continue to provide insights about the progress as it builds and spreads across the country.
--Lorin Paley, SNEWS Youth Advisory & Reporting Team/2009 Telemark World Junior Champion
The SNEWS® Youth Team has been made possible in part by the generous support of Vibram, with additional support from Confluence Watersports: