We staked our tents in a grassy meadow not far from a cool ocean breeze. Over the crackle of the campfire, we admired the sheer number of fireflies lighting up the surrounding woods. Two days later, my hands crammed into a granite crack as I completed a challenging bouldering line. Where would you picture this adventure? How about New York City? You bet!
I’m just as surprised as anyone to have had a great outdoor experience in such an urban setting. Who knew that there was a national recreation area campground less than a 30-minute subway ride from central Manhattan, facing the beautiful Jamaica Bay? Who knew that at the north end of Central Park there are some great bouldering spots? Having my eyes opened by a unique outdoor experience while in Manhattan for the Outdoor Nation youth summit in June has made me realize the outdoors are everywhere. The only problem for many is seeing, recognizing and connecting them to the outdoors.
At the beginning of Outdoor Nation’s 2011 five-city tour, I joined 50 other diverse young leaders in New York City for the group's National Congress to start creating a connected Outdoor Nation. (Click here to see that story and others about several of the 2011 summits.) We worked through our differences in motivation, debated topics ranging from conservation to school funding, and in the end agreed on an outdoor youth Bill of Rights and Responsibilities – the first of its kind to be drafted by youth. Lunch breaks were pushed late while brainstorming time extended. Within the group, most hadn't dug out of their school debt, yet were committed to volunteering their time to see these rights upheld. Plus, we were supported by a large group of outdoor brands and non-outdoor companies. (Click here to see our list of summit partners.)
The youth Bill of Rights includes the right to:
- An accessible, healthful and safe outdoor environment
- Know what outdoor experiences are available locally
- An early introduction and sustained access to outdoor and environmental education, in and out of the school setting
The work from the Outdoor Nation National Congress in New York became the basis for conversation at the group's consecutive weekend-long Regional Summits in Atlanta, then Minneapolis, followed by Denver and then San Francisco. In each city, ideas for solutions were turned into focused programs, which competed for funding. The top four voted programs are to receive a $2,500 grant in September if their focus group created a detailed outline by the end of the summer. In all, the five summits created 20 opportunities to create successful grassroots programs for little or no risk.
My high-energy group from the Denver Summit set up a group Facebook chat immediately after our summit with 80 threads going, covering everything from budgeting to a detailed timeline and mind map. Other groups were created too.
In 2010, I along with nine other delegates wrote the Outdoor Nation declaration during an all-night session of determination and altruism. We saw inspiration in the eyes of our peers during the kickoff summit a year ago and knew that immediate action was how we wanted to keep the ball rolling.
With the commitment still going strong this year, I know our all-night work session isn’t the exception but the standard within my generation. We aren’t a generation that goes with the flow. We are the generation that has the capability to spur an outdoor revolution.
Like the declaration states, “We are leaders,” and with the help of companies like The North Face, REI and the Conservation Fund, we have been given the funding and training to create a stronger nation for the future. Our funded projects are out to revolutionize the way youth see and treat the outdoors, take away stigmas, replace them with accessibility and foster respect and conservation.
After all, since our generation popularized contracting full sentences to abbreviations, we can be the generation to expand an abbreviation to the nation: GTFO (get the fun outside).
--Lorin Paley,SNEWS Youth Advisory & Reporting Team, 2009 Telemark World Junior Champion, and Outdoor Nation ambassador
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.