Preparing the 200-foot tent where he and the other delegates to the first Outdoor Nation Youth Summit would spend the next two days meeting, Jon Parham said he had a few gripes with the America where he grew up: “I went all the way through high school graduation and never experienced any part of the system that encouraged or pushed kids to go outside.”
The 23-year-old from Houston, Texas, stood inside the tent in New York’s Central Park that would host 500 youth from around the nation in discussions about getting themselves and their peers outdoors. And Parham, already in college, said he was excited to get a say. Antsy for the discussions to come, he shifted his weight nervously from foot to foot.
“This event is important. The louder our voices in this matter, the more we will be heard,” he said before the kick-off of the June 19-20 event. Parham and all the other delegates, including ourselves, who represented every state in the United States, seemed to know this inaugural summit organized by the Outdoor Foundation (www.outdoorfoundation.org) would be a megaphone for all of us to have our voices heard and have our opinions put directly onto the agendas of both the outdoor industry and the government policy makers. Leaders from both were there to listen.
When it became clear in recent years that fewer youths were going outdoors or participating in outdoor activities, the Outdoor Industry Association board racked their brains for solutions, they told us at the summit. What was keeping kids from reaching the outdoors? What can we do to help? The industry’s leadership had tried to tell the younger generation what to do, but that hadn’t worked at all. After some deliberation, the only definitive solution seemed to be to ask the youth themselves what they wanted from “their” outdoors and what the adults could do to help. Thus, the Outdoor Nation Youth Summit (www.outdoornation.org) was born.
Parham’s words seemed to ring truer than even he realized. CEOs, analysts and consultants from the outdoor industry stood on the sidelines during the summit, eagerly waiting to hear ideas coming from the youth representing America. President Barack Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative (click here to see an April 30, 2010, SNEWS® story) made the summit the second stop on its national tour of town hall meetings to hear what the public says about the outdoors. That means what the youth said -- what we said -- at the summit would play a direct role in creating the national agenda for the initiative (www.doi.gov/americasgreatoutdoors).
“Finally, an event about us… (The industry is) giving us the cool and amazing challenge to lobby for everyone to experience the outdoors,” said Ryan, 23, a Job Corps volunteer from Brooklyn, N.Y. The structure of the summit broke the Outdoor Nation delegates into small groups of about 50 so we could all discuss various topics, making sure every voice was heard and every idea was put on the table. After each group presented its solutions in an area, all participants voted to select the most proactive solutions, which made it a truly interactive and democratic process and fun to participate in.
“The summit has left me hopeful and optimistic,” said Dakota Lynch, 25, a National Park Service engineer, echoing the tone of the summit we experienced as participants. During the lunch break, one overheard bits and pieces of participants’ plans for the future. Some planned on starting a volunteer program for high school students to lead middle schoolers on hikes. Some wanted to raise money to create safe bike trails connecting urban towns. Others wanted to take their peers paddling. All were excited to start from within their communities. And we were excited to find out The North Face, The Conservation Fund, and CamelBak donated a total of $350,000 in grant money to ensure that the delegates could start those grassroots initiatives immediately (click here to read industry news about the funding from The North Face and from CamelBak). This also gives outdoor industry companies time to decide how to best support the 50 solutions and ideas we all voted on during the summit.
Not only was this event revolutionary, but at the end of the weekend, in muggy New York heat, 92 percent of participants voted that these events were essential to the outdoor revolution. Samantha, a recreation assistant in New Jersey, 21, had nothing but thanks for those who made this event possible.
“The sponsoring of events like this allows us a voice for change…keep it up and good work,” she said.
Take a look at a SNEWS photo report on June 21 from Outdoor Nation, as well as a summary story on June 23, “Outdoor Nation Youth Summit 2010: The seeds, the results, the future,” plus another report from youth delegates on June 25, “Youth ‘reporters’ tell us what they saw and what they want.”
--Lorin Paley and Anthony Shaheen
Lorin Paley, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., started a “breakfast club” workout group when she was 13. A summit delegate and Outdoor Ambassador, she was introduced to the great outdoors on family skiing and hiking trips. She is an internationally competitive alpine and telemark skier who started skiing at age 3 and has been tearing up the slopes ever since.
Anthony Shaheen, also a summit delegate and Outdoor Ambassador, studied recreation management at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. He graduated early and works for Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department in Charlotte, N.C., as an environmental educator, working with at-risk urban youth to offer the opportunities he had growing up.
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