The voices of more than 500 youth of America shouted “yes’” to parks, trails, rock faces and slopes and “no more” to the growing disconnect between the young people of America and the outdoors. Young leaders from the country’s urban, suburban and rural areas came together June 19-20 to brainstorm ways to increase youth participation in the outdoors, while in the heart of New York City’s premier outdoor venue, Central Park. The unprecedented event’s discussion also came under the watchful eye of President Barack Obama’s staff working toward the same goal in the Great Outdoors initiative as well as big-time CEOs of companies like The North Face and Prana. Adults at the event, accustomed to meetings filled with as TNF’s Steve Rendle put it, “old, white men,” remarked on the inspiration they found in what was often the largely ignored ideas of the young, diverse members of Outdoor Nation.
Although the weekend’s discussions were scheduled for about four hours on June 19 and another packed eight hours on June 20, it actually was much more intense for some attendees. The Outdoor Nation youth role models called “Outdoor Ambassadors,” including ourselves (Ed. Note: Our authors, Breslin and Nag, are both Ambassadors.) were up most of the night Saturday culling through discussion points to present summaries on Sunday to the entire delegation. The Ambassadors were all up again until nearly 5 a.m. June 21 after spending most of the night analyzing results of the weekend’s summit.
“In this urban area, we are bringing together people who already have extensive background as outdoor advocates, as well as people who really have no experience in being outside, but are offering background on the things keeping them from getting there,” explained one youth delegate and table facilitator at one of 50 tables at the event.
The three major themes widely discussed could be put under the categories of education, accessibility and promotion -- education about, accessibility to, and promotion of the outdoors in the millennial generation.
>> Education was the most prevalent demand from the youth at the summit. Delegates asked for more outdoor programs at schools to expose youth to the outdoors as well as for environmental education at schools to foster more stewardship and conservation. In addition to this, education on outdoor skills and knowledge that would enable outdoor recreation was a high priority to those involved. To accomplish this, a standard outdoor curriculum would need to be integrated into schools nationwide and extra-curricular programs at schools and community-based organizations would be responsible for providing programs aimed at increasing the amount of kids outdoors at an early age.
Commented one of the delegates at the summit: “Playing on the blacktop of school was not fun. If there had been a priority on the outdoors growing up, I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken me so long to get myself out to take a walk in the woods.”
>> Accessibility was second in line to be recognized as a barrier between youth and the outdoors. The hurdles that keep accessibility to the outdoors low came from a broad demographic of rural, suburban and urban residents. Safety in accessing the outdoors was a huge theme, especially in urban areas, as a part of the issue of accessibility. Having exposure to the outdoors especially from an early age was also a problem, especially for those hailing from the urban parts of the country. Outdoor education was one possible fix suggested, as was grassroots mentorship though community-based programs. Many of the youth were interested in careers in the outdoors and wanted increased support and exposure toward a future in outdoor jobs.
>> Promotion of the outdoors could also help with the third sentiment expressed: A lack of interest in the outdoors from much of the millennial generation. Indoor entertainment options such as computers, video games and television were collectively seen as a barrier between young people and enjoyment of the outdoors. The participants of the summit agreed that it would be possible to utilize this technology to change the perception of the outdoors, inspire and promote youth to get outdoors, and make it more of a fun, “cool” place to be.
“They sit around all day and play on their computers,” said Mikah Feldman-Stein, 16, a delegate from Long Island, New York. “They haven’t had the chance to see how exhilarating it is to be outdoors, mountain biking or rafting or something.”
Many of the Summit delegates shared their own personal stories of younger siblings consumed by technology at an early age. “In elementary school we played at recess, and in middle school we were still going outdoors. Come high school, we sat inside at the computers at lunch,” explained one high school delegate of his experiences.
Collectively, the youth delegates and Ambassadors of Outdoor Nation (www.outdoornation.org) said they believed that the challenges discussed during the summit were paramount in securing a future generation of “outsiders.” With the iron still hot, a group of Ambassadors plan to meet again in August at the Outdoor Retailer show to digest the challenges faced and respond to them with calls-to-action that can be carried out in local communities across the nation -- what we all hope will be an “outdoor” nation.
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.”
--Emily Breslin and Nitish Nag
Emily Breslin (left), from the San Francisco Bay Area, has been a competitive skier and is now a competitive mountain biker. She just graduated from her high school where she was her newspaper’s editor. She was a summit delegate and Outdoor Ambassador at the event.
Nitish Nag (right), a summit delegate who was originally part of the 2007 Outdoor Idol group that wasrenamed Outdoor Ambassadors, is a mountain and road biker from the San Francisco Bay Area, who now attends the University of California, Berkeley.
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