I've recently returned from the National Grassroots Gathering hosted by the Child and Nature Network in Keystone, Colo. The National Grassroots Gathering brought together leaders from across the country to build a connection between children and nature.
Under the heading of Making Connections, participants offered suggestions on advancing efforts to reconnect children and nature through research, policy makers, community, media, social networks and the medical profession. The Child and Nature Network is working to build a movement that will bring cultural change and restore the connection between children and the outdoors.
The setting for the conference, which was located in the ski town of Keystone, Colo. was spectacular and the problems facing the small, resort community were significant. It was easy to draw parallels from west to east, as many of the state's seasonal, resort communities are currently facing dilemmas similar to our own.
Residents spoke of concerns with issues of affordable housing, transportation woes and inconsistencies of seasonal employment. Many locals voiced sentiments that revolved around the same "locals versus outsiders" debate that continues to plague many resort communities. It is a common refrain, whether voiced from a coastal community in Maine, a mountain town in the Adirondacks or a high desert resort in Arizona.
The common thread that binds many of these small, communities is a seasonal influx of visitors and the ongoing struggle to retain the character and charm of their community in the face of development pressures and the difficulties of earning a living in a seasonal economy.
Residents of these communities often express a desire to retain the charm and character of their small towns, yet they recognize the need for economic development. They often share the same dilemma: "At what point does the continued development of tourist infrastructure overshadow a sense of community?"
It is a question that is currently being asked from Tupper Lake to North Creek to Lake Placid and in many places beyond.
In Keystone, as in the nearby ski resort towns of Vail, Aspen and Breckenridge, workers are now forced to commute an hour or more to the communities where they work, due to a lack of affordable, local housing. Similar problems are apparent in places such as Sedona, Jackson Hole, Cape Cod or Lake Placid, where seasonal employment and soaring housing prices offer a conundrum of contradictions that plague both residents and visitors alike.
There are no easy answers to such situations, however with the continued dialogue and efforts of organizations such as the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance; there is an opportunity for creative solutions, dialogue and the advancement of community ideals.
Colorado kids are no different than New York's
Colorado, a state renowned for offering a wealth of mountain recreation and snowsports opportunities, is experiencing the same struggles as New York when it comes to traditional sporting endeavors and the need to get the next generation involved.
At the Child and Nature conference, Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien addressed the assembly to tout a recently enacted, Colorado Kids' Outdoor Bill of Rights. The legislation will ensure that Colorado's children will have access to and an appreciation of the value of the natural world and mountain recreation.
O'Brien explained that the Colorado Ski Country's Fifth Grade Passport Program will continue to provide every fifth grader in the state with a season's pass that can be used at any of the state's 26 ski areas.
The passport program was developed by the skiing industry after studies revealed that if a child does not participate in skiing by the time they reach 5th grade, they likely never will.
However, despite this highly touted, youth outreach effort, statistics show that a vast majority of the state's 1.26 million children never take advantage of the program because they are reared in families with no affinity or involvement in the natural world.
According to studies, it is estimated that 90-95 percent of Colorado kids have no available transportation, no lesson availability, no access to equipment or any on the mountain meal system. While there may be no lack of interest in snowsports, the majority of the state's children just have no way of getting to and on the mountain.
In similar fashion, the Denver Public School system's Balarat Outdoor Education Center provides overnight introductory outdoor education experiences for over 10,000 Denver kids annually, yet studies have revealed that 95 percent of these same kids never get to the mountains during their entire life. They grow up with no exposure to the mountains or snowsports in a state that is defined worldwide for its mountains and snowsports.
Despite living in close proximity to the natural wonders of the west, or the east, many children simply do not have a means to access the bounty of their local environment.
Without the tools (canoes, bikes, skis, etc.) and the knowledge and companionship of an appropriate mentor, most children will never enjoy the wealth of natural wonders that attract visitor to their special part of the world. They will remain strangers in their own land, watching others enjoy what they can not. Their resentment is understandable.
It is easy to draw comparisons to similar opportunities for children in New York and Vermont, or Utah and Wyoming. The fact remains, if the parents do not participate in skiing, boating, hunting or hiking, it is highly unlikely that the child will engage in such activities.
It was obvious that such trends are nationwide when O'Brien detailed Colorado's efforts to introduce their youth into the traditional sporting pursuits of hunting and fishing. With the combination of hunting and fishing license sales, the average age of Colorado's sportsman now stands at 47. This average is not far removed from the age of sportsmen in New York, which is currently 46 years.
Hopefully, with the enactment of legislation to permit youth to participate in the Big Game Hunting season at age 14, the average age of New York sportsman will soon diminish. But, it will only happen if the sportsmen and women who are currently participating in the hunt make a concerted effort to bring youngsters into the fold. The International Take A Child Outside week is coming up from Sept. 24-30. Whether for a hike, bike or hunt, do your part and take a kid outside!
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org