Parents, educators, physicians—and land managers—are increasingly concerned with the growing disconnect between children and nature, and the kind of future we are creating for our children. This disconnect from nature coupled with a sedentary lifestyle has serious implications for the long-term health and well-being of our nation’s children. Childhood obesity is on the increase and the next generation of children may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
Pleasurable leisure-time outdoor activities, like hiking, camping, and fishing offer great opportunities for people to increase their physical activity and improve their health. For children, physical activity helps improve concentration, memory, and classroom behavior.
“We want every child in America to have the opportunity to experience the great outdoors, whether it is in a remote mountain wilderness or a city park,” said Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell. “We are already working with partners around the country with some great successes and look forward to more.”
Disconnection from nature also translates into a shaky future for sustainable forests and healthy public lands. Any plan to sustain healthy productive ecosystems must ensure that people remain socially connected to them so they become better stewards of our natural resources
The Forest Service and its partners are helping reconnect children with nature through its “More Kids in the Woods” program that gets kids out into the forest—face to face with nature, up close and personal. The program helps fund fun and constructive activities in the forest and in the towns and cities where children live. One project actually tore-up asphalt and created downtown green space for kids to enjoy. The Forest Service is working with partners to ensure that children and their parents have the opportunity to personally experience the fun of the great outdoors.
In addition, the Forest Service has more than 6,000 campsites and picnic areas on the national forests and nearly 200 million acres of forests, lakes, ponds and reservoirs for fishing, hunting, hiking, geo-caching, camping, rock climbing and much more. A total of 5,400 trailheads provide access to more than 143,000 miles of trails.
Forests are healthy places for wildlife as well as people. The national forests provide 28 million acres of wild turkey habitat and habitat for 80 percent of the elk, mountain goats and bighorn sheep in the lower 48 states. Forests help the local economies too. Over $600 million is spent on hunting activities with over 16 million hunting visits per year, supporting 20,000 jobs.
Local Forest Service ranger stations in partnership with other federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and many others offer numerous events such as a Free Fishing Day – Fish US, National Trails Day, Public Lands Day, Winter Trails Days. Other examples include Ski US and Camp US and Winter Trails programs.
For over 100 years, we have been providing interpretive services, ranger talks, summer outdoor work opportunities such as the Youth Conservation Corps and Urban Treehouses, and educational programs such as Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and the Natural Inquirer.
Last year, more than 4.4 million people were reached through these programs. More than 800 partners leveraged Forest Service investments by 400 percent.
We encourage you and your children to enjoy one or more of over 155 national forests and 20 grasslands. For a video of all the Forest Service has to offer to everyone see http://www.fs.fed.us/news/2008/video/02/sb.shtml. To reserve a campsite go to www.recreation.gov today.