Outdoor Nation’s Denver Youth Summit faced 100-degree heat and was behind schedule, but not a delegate minded. Sweat rolled off tired faces from the weekend conference, yet the intensity of the discussions didn't falter. Attendees had been assigned to come up with a regional project to get youth outdoors and they were in the heat of it – literally.
Fifteen groups finalized their presentations showcasing how their projects would knock down barriers keeping youth from the outdoors. Every last detail was mapped out, but it wasn’t just a training exercise. This was for real. Each group knew that their project could be voted by their peers to win one of four $2,500 grants to actually implement it.
Even if Outdoor Nation (www.outdoornation.org) wasn't the only organization with a youth-volunteer-written declaration of rights and responsibilities for reconnecting youth to the outdoors (conceived at the National Summit in New York, June 22-23, 2011). And even if the Outdoor Nation summit wasn't the only conference to guarantee grant money for youth-conceived and -managed programs, the enthusiasm and dedication of participants at this regional summit, July 22-24, 2011, would be just as powerful.
Each delegate brought his or her unique passion to the regional barriers, and the projects in four categories clearly showcased that passion. After the top six presentations of 15 were voted by the group, the number was culled down to four that the group considered its selection for implementation:
>> Hour for earth -- During the lunch break on day one, Kelly, a transplant to the Rockies from California, gently confronted a group of middle school kids when they left a candy wrapper on the beach. “I might just pick it up if it was a group of adults, but maybe those kids are young enough where I can leave an impression on their habits.” Her table team went on to design an elementary school lunch program called “An Hour For Earth” that will teach the virtues of recycling and composting. “We are going to make caring for the environment cool,” she said, “just like the D.A.R.E. program made staying drug free cool when we were kids.”
>> Gardening and farming -- Dylan, a delegate from Wyoming, brought his unique passion for mushroom farming to his table’s gardening project targeted towards making young kids aware of how to find, grow and prepare foods from their surroundings. “Because mushrooms benefit from forest decay, they help it live. Mushrooms break down granite to allow grass to grow then make soil from the dead grass,” he said. “Without them, there would be no soil. Without soil, there would be no life. If every kid could see how mushrooms, in a way, want the soil to be fertile, so they can guarantee their future, maybe those kids could realize how not recycling will cause a breakdown in our ecosystem.”
>> Mentor web portal -- Justin, from North Carolina, believes that a lack of mentors was the biggest barrier that kept him from the outdoors. “When I first started running whitewater, I couldn't find anyone to go with. There was no club at my school, and I didn't even know what river section to run. I resorted to stalking cars with boats on top in order make my first connections,” he said. His group created a plan for a web platform where people can add themselves as mentors in their area for outdoor activities. Josh, from Denver, found his inspiration to learn how to ski from watching Warren Miller films. So for the project he added an emphasis on visuals to the web platform so that each activity is complimented by inspiring media along with mentors.
>> Engaging families -- Alec, one of the many delegates from Texas, saw opportunities for creativity in everything. “You can look at a can and see an empty can. I can see an emergency lantern. Over there, that tree makes a great bow for fire busting, (a primitive fire starting technique). It is the perfect stiffness.” His group, Adventure Pac, built their project around engaging families in the outdoors through rental packs at libraries. Each pack is planned to have specific tools for the adventure showcased on a map, from identifying trees to carving driftwood into a whistle.
Each group will now work with leadership at Outdoor Nation to submit a proposal with additional detail before it gets the money to set the project’s wheels in motion. Along the way, Outdoor Nation leaders will continue to monitor progress.
When at last the groups were satisfied with their presentations, which ranged from choreographed fights between the garbage and a recycling can to a rap by the Outdoor Party Planners, a five-minute break was voted the top priority. No wonder, after hard thinking in a sweaty, noisy tent.
Wandering through Cherry Creek State Park, delegates, who were pouring over pen and paper moments ago, broke out Frisbees, books, swimsuits – and a few yoga moves. Sharing of knowledge didn’t stop: Victoria, another Texas delegate, wowed a crowd by sharing her fun fact that cottonwood branches broken at the node concealed a perfect star, and Alec demonstrated fire busting a few yards away.
The Denver region has been notorious for not sticking to schedules – normally Outdoor Nation events run like a Swiss train -- and the 2011 Denver summit was no different.
(photo courtesy of Kimberly Banzhaf)
With the culmination of so many passions from pro snowboarding to preserving the seeds and heritage of rare heirloom tomatoes, it was no surprise when the five-minute break stretched into a thirty-minute shared learning experience – really right on time for the generation.
--- Lorin Paley, SNEWS Youth Advisory & Reporting Team, 2009 Telemark World Junior Champion, and a member of the Denver region
More Youth news:
Click here to see the June 29, 2011, SNEWS story on the New York Summit.
Click here to see the July 18, 2011, story about the Atlanta Summit.
To find out about the 2011 season of events and summits, click here to see a March 21 SNEWS story.
The SNEWS® Youth Team has been made possible in part by the generous support of Vibram, with additional support from Confluence Watersports:
The SNEWS Youth Advisory & Reporting Team was founded over the summer of 2010 with the goal to give the youth a chance to explore writing, photography, videography, editing and other journalistic endeavors while also using those avenues to reach out to and influence more youth.