Over the past two decades, the gap between young people and nature has widened. This gap includes a lack of understanding of agriculture (where food comes from) and a connection to the outdoors. The most worrisome statistic surrounding this issue is that today, American kids spend an average of only four to seven minutes a day in unstructured play outside. That is over 50% less time than their parents did. Research shows that playing outside in nature benefits a child physically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively. Reversing this trend is vital for our country and the wellbeing of our children. Agencies like the national park service, outdoor and recreation industries, environmental groups, and the agricultural community can play a significant role in connecting families to the environment.
At the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT), we work to protect open space, and more specifically, agricultural properties for future generations. CCALT relies on supporters who value open spaces, agriculture, and natural resources. We work with multiple partners who care about protecting Colorado’s clean air, water, natural resources, scenic beauty, and food supply. Without this support and the willingness of ranchers to conserve their properties, the future of Colorado agriculture and open space is uncertain. Our children are the next generation of ranchers, park rangers, conservationists, board members, and donors, and if our children don’t experience nature in their formative years, they may not grow up to value it as adults.
Organizations throughout the west are seeking ways to engage youth and their families to enhance this connection. Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) is an example of a group facilitating this change. This year, GOCO announced a new Inspire Initiative. The Inspire Initiative is a five-year strategy aimed at inspiring Coloradans, particularly kids, to appreciate, enjoy and take care of our great outdoors. GOCO believes that barriers like time, transportation, money, access, and lack of interest and understanding keep kids from getting outside and developing a lifelong passion for the great outdoors. Igniting this passion in our youth is vital for the well being of Colorado citizens, our wildlife, our agriculture, and our way of life.
In October, the GOCO board will announce Inspire Initiative’s six pilot communities. Each will receive planning grants and be eligible to earn $1 million to $5 million grants in 2016 to implement their plans. In each pilot community, a local hub that serves youth and families will be identified. This hub will play a central role in connecting all youth with nature. The ultimate goal of Inspire is to engage kids in the outdoors over a long period of time. This means that a child may grow plants in kindergarten, fish at a local state park in 4th grade, and visit a working farm or ranch in middle school.
With initiatives like Inspire, and support from outdoor and environmental organizations, industries and agencies, we can ensure that the Colorado we are working so hard to preserve can be enjoyed by future generations.
For more information on the Inspire Initiative or examples of recent GOCO grants, such as those utilizing ranch lands for outdoor educational opportunities, or those using easements to protect lands for youth programs, please visit www.goco.org.
Photo Credit: Steve & Joy Wooten