SA partners with U.S. Forest Service to bring children to nature
by Jerrie Miller
Remember as a kid spending long hours outside playing games, exploring nature and hanging out with friends? For many of us the best part of childhood involved being outdoors, whether at a neighborhood park, a divisional camp or our own backyard.
Sadly, many young people no longer enjoy those opportunities. As our society becomes more urban and tied to technology, educators, physicians and parents are seeing a huge disconnect between children and nature. This disconnect, combined with inactivity, is resulting in serious long-term health issues for the next generation. It also puts the future of forests and public lands at risk. According to the National Forest Service, children must understand the value of nature in order to grow into citizens who support conservation and public resources.
The National Forest Service (NFS) Urban Connections Program in Minneapolis, Minn., is committed to getting kids back outside. In an effort to ensure children have an opportunity to experience the great outdoors, they partnered with The Salvation Army Outdoors (TSAO) to bring kids to Chippewa National Forest in Cass Lake, Minn. This summer a group of 17 boys and their leaders from the Northern Division enjoyed fishing, swimming, wilderness camping and exploring the forest with the assistance of NFS specialists.
For most of the boys, this was their first adventure in the woods. Some came with apprehensions.
Any fear was soon forgotten in the excitement of swimming, fishing and exploring the woods. For Mary Nordeen, public affairs specialist for Chippewa National Forest, the best part of the week was seeing how quickly the young people relaxed and became comfortable in the woods. “I am so glad they are able to feel like they belong here,” she said.
While the boys may have thought they were just having fun, they actually accomplished a lot. With the help of their leaders and forest service staff, they completed tasks required for many explorer and ranger emblems, including camping, wilderness survival, trees, hiking, fishing, orienteering, fire safety, cooking and reptiles. They left camp knowing how to pitch a tent, identify trees, make fishing lures and cook their own meals over fires started without the aid of matches or lighters. They learned about camouflage and the effects of human interaction on wildlife by playing games.
Most importantly, they learned about themselves. They learned they are able to get along with others while waiting out the rain in an enclosed tent. They learned they needed to pitch in and help if they wanted to eat. They learned to make choices by deciding which ingredients go into a perfect s’more. They learned they can do hard things, get along, make a difference and go outside to play.