Earlier this summer, Outdoor Nation, the youth-led movement spurring youngsters to reconnect, redefine and rediscover the outdoors, held its main event in New York City (June 22-23, 2011), with representatives from each state discussing key objectives and goals. The event launched the organization’s five regional summits, each continuing the dialouge, including a Summer Fun Day to get delegates active outdoors. SNEWS Youth Advisory & Reporting Team member Anthony Shaheen headed to Outdoor Nation’s Southeast Regional Summit (July 9-10, 2011) for a firsthand report on the action.
The raft guide shouted, “One stroke forward!” urging his paddlers to surf a rapid at the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C. Before the raft was kicked down river, a wall of water consumed a raft full of Outdoor Nation delegates looking for a fresh experience.
“It wasn’t until then that it hit me – this isn’t a dream,” said 17-year-old Waverly Garner, a delegate and state park ambassador from Virginia. Garner was one of 17 youth who traveled together through North Carolina to attend the Outdoor Nation Southeast Regional Summit in Atlanta, Ga.
Garner climbed aboard the bus starting his travels at 5 that morning in Richmond, Va. Half-asleep from a late night packing for the journey, he joined a fellow state park ambassador and a handful of state park employees all under the age of 26. The road trip moved south along Interstate 85, picking up delegates along the way. A combination of an early morning and nerves kept the people on the bus from opening up at first, but soon the delegates gravitated toward conversation, sharing where they’ve been in life and common interests.
Among the North Carolina delegates was Alshaé Logan, an outreach intern from the state’s Department of Natural Resources in Greensboro. Logan, 23, spends most of her time educating young children and combating the fearful stereotypes of the woods shared by not only the inner-city kids she teaches, but her family as well. She loves the outdoors, she said, but admitted she has limited experience with outdoor activities.
After a full day of travel the delegates arrived at the National Whitewater Center for an afternoon of rafting on class 4-plus rapids. “I was psyched seeing the building. I couldn’t believe I was getting to see where the Olympic athletes train! I immediately thought I want to work in a place like that!” exclaimed Garner. The rafting experience seemed to unite all the delegates before they tucked in for a stormy night of camping at Copperhead Island.
The next morning it was on to Atlanta, where 91 delegates from all parts of the Southeast met up at Clark Atlanta University. Dialogue focused on how to get more youth outdoors. One solution presented was an afterschool program in Richmond, Va. sponsored by the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, which is seeking more partners. The program will – most importantly – get youth outdoors, but also provide free pedometers and healthy snacks.
With this generation, it was no surprise to hear plenty of solutions involving social media. Delegates put forth ideas on how to increase communication on Outdoor Nation’s social media website and start up video conference calls to help keep outdoor projects moving along throughout the year.
Ideas were voted on, and in some exciting cases, funded. Speakers, like the New Wilderness Project and North Face Athlete, Pete Athens, shared their moving experiences through words, art, images, and music.
The New Wilderness Project played a song that spoke about many rivers all leading to the same sea. “I was touched emotionally. I was crying,” Logan said. “A lot has changed,” she said, speaking to the difference in herself. As an African-American she said she felt tied down, that the outdoors wasn’t for her because of her race. “I don’t have to stick with one category. I can take my own path in life.”
Garner, who was initially expecting to merely get some ideas on how to start programs locally, spoke with much more intent afterward.
“I am looking at ways to realistically approach building an outdoor community,” Garner said. “I met people who have implemented programs and I’ve learned from them. … I want to start my own project. I’m inspired to change North Carolina. I’ve found a new path in life.”
The bus ride back was bittersweet with hugs all around. Delegates hopped off the bus with an excitement that left even this writer without sleep.
“Outdoor Nation really shows you what’s out there,” Garner said, “what you can do, and ramps up your passion.”
The SNEWS® Youth Team has been made possible in part by the generous support of Vibram, with additional support from Confluence Watersports: