"Last Child in the Woods" Meets "More Kids in the Woods"

Washington, D.C. (May 23, 2007) - Author Richard Louv brought his warning that modern societal forces are separating children from nature to a Washington, D.C., gathering of recreation community leaders and applauded a new partnership-based response to that trend led by the USDA Forest Service. The response, “More Kids in the Woods,” is a challenge-grant program initially involving 24 programs across the nation and $1.5 million in Forest Service and non-federal funds.

Louv spoke passionately about the potential repercussions of today’s youth losing a personal connection to the outdoors. According to Louv, “We care for what we know and love.” He told the group that if today’s children don’t have “transformational experiences in the outdoors” during their youth, they are unlikely, as adults, to be engaged in public policy deliberations about our forests and parks and about environmental issues like global warming.

He offered a message of hope, saying that his travels across the United States and Canada have shown him that there is a movement for change. “The problems cannot be overcome with a single, cookie-cutter response,” he warned, and he also cautioned against alarmist rhetoric that hampers a child’s sense of wonder and joy about outdoor experiences.

Alerted to the session in advance and briefed by both Louv and Forest Service officials, AP Reporter Matt Daly prepared a story on the event that generated extensive coverage, including stories in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Denver Post – and even Pravda in Moscow.

Forest Service Deputy Chief Ann Bartuska also spoke to the group and underscored the agency’s commitment to meeting the challenge of reduced youth involvement in outdoor activities. She noted that the “More Kids in the Woods” program is expressly designed to fund efforts to actually get kids outdoors but pointed out that the agency would also be working in other ways to connect youth and nature. Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment Mark Rey then introduced representatives of three of the grant recipients, who outlined their programs to the assembled leaders.

The session was organized by the American Recreation Coalition (ARC) and the National Forest Foundation (NFF), nonprofit groups actively engaged in outdoor recreation programs involving national forests. Support for the event also came from ReserveAmerica and the Forest Service. ReserveAmerica works with federal agencies to provide reservations for campsites and other facilities and services, and to disseminate information about recreation opportunities on federal lands.

Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods was released in 2005 and has sparked a national conversation on the consequences of the disappearing connection between children and nature. He underscores the need to provide children with unscheduled play time and to guard against undeserved fears of dangers when children play outdoors in their neighborhoods. He also shared insights about those in his profession – journalists. “We do really want to change the world, not merely talk about what we see,” he told the group. “And we are too focused on the negative. The dominant message coming from my profession is essentially that the game is over. Why, then, would we expect youth will suit up to play in the game?”

The initial Forest Service grants total $500,000. Details on the grants can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/woods/index.shtml . According to ARC President Derrick Crandall, all of the organizations involved in the program expect “More Kids in the Woods” to continue and to grow. Crandall expressed hope that significant national private sector funding would be available for grants next year.

Following the presentations and grant announcements, the recreation leaders gathered over lunch with a number of children and young adults, including representatives from the Student Conservation Association, to brainstorm about additional opportunities to connect youth and nature, especially through active fun outdoors. Participants also heard details of initial research led by Dr. Deborah Chavez, a Forest Service social scientist, into ways to increase the excitement about the outdoors for today’s youth, including evidence that traditional activities can be enhanced with the inclusion of new technologies like digital cameras and hand-held GPS devices.

Session organizers ARC and NFF also briefed the group about the ideas and information collected during a series of six Recreation Forums conducted in March and April 2007. The Forum reports will be a key part of discussions in Washington during Great Outdoors Week, June 11-16, 2007.