Reconnecting our Youth to Outdoor Recreation, Who’s In?



This post by Becky Schwanke first appeared on the Tuff Kids Outdoors Blog on January 21st, 2016.  It is reposted here with the author’s permission.

Beyond your own family, your own town or state, there are Nationwide initiatives afoot to help reconnect youth to the outdoors. Efforts that are critical to ensuring healthy, active communities and a future for outdoor conservation. Among these leaders is The Outdoor Foundation®, an organization dedicated to increasing interest and participation in outdoor activities. This group among others believe that if we work together, we can effectively work to end America’s inactivity crisis and reconnect youth to the outdoors.

Some Leading Outdoor Recreation Groups

The North Face Explore FundOne group helping to lead this charge is The North Face®. Through their desire to share their outdoor passion, the Explore Fund™ was established. Annual grant recipients include nonprofit organizations working to encourage participants to experience outdoor activities and develop an enduring appreciation of the outdoors. Through these efforts, the company seeks to inspire and enable the next generation of outdoor explorers and conservationists.

Skull and Fur KitAnother national powerhouse directly involved in Outdoor Youth Education is the Safari Club International (SCI). Through programs such as their American Wilderness Leadership School (AWLS), SCI works to get more youth outdoors through another method, education. The AWLS is a unique program focusing directly on educators as well as youth through sustainable use wildlife conservation curriculum. If kids learn about nature and the importance of conservation, they are able to envision themselves outdoors enjoying the environment. SCI hopes to foster a love and appreciation for wildlife at all ages. SCI is a leader in interactive “Hands On” instructional opportunities, helping kids get into nature one skull at a time.

Then there are partnerships, such as the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK), where organizations from diverse sectors come together to help connect children, youth and families with the outdoors. The members of OAK were brought together by the belief that the wellness of current and future generations, the health of our planet and communities and the economy of the future depend on humans having a personal, direct and life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors. A powerful message we agree with whole heartedly.

While encouraging youth and families to go explore the outdoors is a great first step, nature can be intimidating to first timers. Where to start is a huge hurdle for some. Since we all learned how to ride bikes as kids, perhaps this is an avenue through which you and your family can begin to venture into nature. A few groups have already capitalized on some basic skills such as this to help promote more outdoor time.

Mountain Biking American TrailsAmong them are the Big City Mountaineers, the Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association (CORBA), and the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council. These groups are diligently working to bring the outdoors to urban teenagers through a variety of methods. CORBA has created Youth Adventures, through which they coordinate mountain bike excursions to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area for inner-city kids from Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The Mountaineers use eight-day wilderness backpacking and canoeing programs with trained adult volunteer mentors to teach outdoor skills, teamwork, and goal achievement.,, and

WISE Outdoor KidsHere in Alaska, we too have urban youth that rarely venture outdoors. One of my favorite organizations trying to change this is the Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE).

WISE provides science and environmental education to all age groups, resources for learning, and support for scientific research. They are instrumental in annual events such as Earth Discovery Day in Copper Basin schools, a spring Ice Fishing Day, a 10-day river rafting adventure on the Copper River for high school students, an Aquatic Ecology Camp, annual hikes and more.

Getting Kids into the Wilderness

The commonality of these programs is that they get the kids out into the wilderness, changing the image of adults from adversaries to mentors, and providing them with a more positive vision of what their lives can be.

So how many kids are actually participating in outdoor recreation? According to a 2014 report by The Outdoor Foundation® over 142 million Americans report participating in some form of outdoor recreation, with a significant portion being kids. That’s great news, but it’s declining. Bad news. Over 1/3 of our 6-12 year olds are recreating outdoors, but that drops to 29% by age 13-17.

Outdoor Recreation participation by youth

What is outdoor recreation? It can include anything from jogging to fishing, bike riding to camping, skateboarding to hunting. All of these activities get our bodies moving and help promote physical fitness we often lack in the course of our daily lives.

Outdoor Recreation in the Winter

What about winter recreation? Often families retract indoors when snow starts to fall. Winter sports however can provide a fantastic calorie-burning outdoor experience that’s sure to leave kids smiling throughout the week.

One group is taking youth winter recreation to the next level. The National Winter Sports Education Foundation (NWSEF) just announced the grand opening of the National Winter Activity Center (NWAC), the nation’s first nonprofit winter sport facility for kids. Formerly Hidden Valley Resort, NWAC will exclusively serve 6- through 17-year-olds, through partnerships with youth organizations. The arching purpose of the facility is to improve the health and fitness of our nation’s youth by providing access to winter sport activities, skill development, healthy meals, and mentoring. To achieve this dream, NWAC invested more than $12 million toward overall improvements including new lifts, snow-making machinery, and renovations to the lodge.

“National Winter Activity Center provides a one of a kind opportunity for youth who would typically not have the chance to experience winter activities such as skiing and snowboarding,” says CEO Schone Malliet. “Part of our goal is to help reverse the low retention rate in winter sports, while combatting childhood obesity and inspiring a lifelong habit of regular exercise during the winter months.”

How to Help

So what can we do to help? As family members, educators, and business owners, we can keep our eyes open for outdoor recreation opportunities for kids. The more we can expose kids to the outdoors, the better appreciation they will have for the natural beauty of the surrounding environment. If kids experience the wonders of nature first hand in a comfortable setting, over their lifetime they will gravitate back to these adventures. If they are taught the form and function of plants, insects, birds, and wildlife, they start to envision and appreciate the complex web that surrounds all of us.

Think back to your childhood, who introduced you to the outdoors?

Who influence kids most when it comes to outdoor recreation

The more outdoor opportunities we can provide for our kids, the better suited they will be for a healthy lifestyle going forward! Join Tuff Kids Outdoors in the Outdoor Movement, volunteer in your community and share outdoor educational opportunities with those around you. The next generation will be stronger for it!

About the Author

Becky Schwanke is a lifelong Alaskan with a strong interest in conservation, outdoor education, and sustainable wildlife management. She is a wife, mother, biologist, and entrepreneur with an avid desire to see kids and families enjoy the great outdoors. No matter what your outdoor passion, she is probably interested in it too. With a strong background in Wildlife Conservation, she is available as an Alaska Conservation Consultant and Outdoor Educator, and continues to serve on volunteer committees and with groups active in wildlife conservation. On the business front, both Tuff Kids Outdoors and Talarik were designed to help bring the next generation along for the ride. Becky says, “Through exploration of one’s environment, we develop a natural sense of ownership and pride in our surroundings. We must all work together to raise the next generation, so they understand and grasp the principles of conservation (the wise use of our natural resources as opposed to preservation), outdoor ethics, and environmental responsibility. Our future depends on it. Come visit us at”

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