PARKS, OUTDOOR RECREATION AND EXPERIENCES – Ohio has a rich history of providing outdoor experiences, recreational opportunities and nature education. State and local parks, nature centers and recreation centers provide close-to-home opportunities for children to experience nature. Traditional nature camps allow children to be immersed in the natural world for extended periods of time. Zoos and museums share with visitors a more intimate knowledge of nature and inspire further investigation. And, each year, youth organizations like Camp Fire, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, along with non-profit organizations like the YMCA, give hundreds of thousands of Ohio’s children the opportunity to experience the wonders of nature. Whether a few minutes in a half-acre of wildflowers or a week long camping experience in thousands of 13acres of unbroken forest, outdoor experiences are vital to children’s development. The following actions can enhance the ability of these organizations to bring children quality nature experiences:
Strategy #1: Support the organizations that already provide facilities and programs that allow children to experience the natural world.
Statewide, Ohio’s diverse and popular state parks system is in jeopardy. The budget for general operating funds for the Ohio State Parks has been cut by more than $17. 5 million since 2000 despite rising costs for salaries, equipment and fuel. All organizations, from municipal parks and recreation centers to scout camps are experiencing budget cuts that put their continued existence at risk. Ohio’s leaders and citizens need to be aware of the value of these organizations. Too often, these facilities and programs are targeted for budget cuts as low priority services. To the contrary, they play a crucial role in public health, in the education of our children and the ability of our communities to attract new residents. Developing strategic alliances between nature facilities and programs, schools and health care providers can help to assure the sustainability of natural resources and outdoor experiences. Such alliances would leverage limited dollars to do “triple duty” – getting children active in a healthy, outdoor environment, educating them through nature experiences, and at the same time supporting our parks, camps, recreation facilities and other natural spaces.
- The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a federal landscape protection grant program that has protected natural resources and developed parks and trails in all 88 Ohio counties since it was enacted in 1965. The LWCF is authorized at $900 million annually, but the program has never reached that level because Congress has moved money from the LWCF into other non-related programs or to reduce the deficit. There is legislation moving through the House and Senate that would provide full and dedicated funding for the LWCF upon final passage of the bill. A fully funded LWCF would mean more outdoor resources for children and families in Ohio.
- Explore the Outdoors:
A statewide program designed to reunite children with nature. The program, administered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, provides Ohio parents, educators and youth leaders with an easy guide to lead Ohio’s young people into the outdoors. The Explore the Outdoors youth activity guide, which is distributed to more than 700,000 Ohio public school children each year, recommends a variety of outdoor activities, including spot a bird, splash in a stream or camp under the stars, which can be completed at parks, wildlife areas, preserves and forests throughout Ohio. Families may also complete some of the activities at area events, local parks, and green spaces or even at home.
- Wild Outdoor Women:
In Alliance, Ohio, Stark Parks recognized that many women, especially single moms, do not feel comfortable taking their kids on outdoor adventures. The Wild Outdoor Women Retreat is designed to offer a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere for women to experience nature through outdoor activities, including kayaking, canoeing, birding, biking, archery, fishing, campfire building and cooking, survival skills, and more. The event is designed and instructed by women to create a non-threatening and social atmosphere. The desired outcome is to create a bond between the participants and nature, so that these women will feel confident to continue the activities and lead family members into the outdoors.
- Project WILD:
A supplementary education program for young people, emphasizing awareness, appreciation, and understanding of wildlife and natural resources. Through this program, students in kindergarten through twelfth grade learn basic concepts about wild animals, their needs and importance, and their relationships to people and the environment. The Project WILD curriculum has been correlated to Ohio’s PreK-12 academic content standards in Science and Social Studies. Project WILD activity guides are available to educators free of charge.