In previous posts, I’ve written about the disturbing trends of kids not spending time outside anymore, instead preferring to spend countless hours on smart phones and tablets, something coined by author Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods), as Nature Deficit Disorder. Those of us in the parks field know this truly is a growing problem, but the question is how to work through a solution?
Well, I attended a festival yesterday for my parks job that may be part of the solution. The town of Erie, Colorado sponsors a yearly event called Erie’s Great Outdoor Adventure. Erie is a town of almost 20,000 people located on the plains of Colorado where many families make their homes who can’t quite afford the million dollar homes of Boulder. It seems like a nice place for kids to grow up. Erie recently invested a lot of money into a very state of the art Community Center, with a community park adjacent to it.
Erie’s Great Outdoor Adventure is basically a community camp out for families to spend a night outdoors and connect with nature. For a small registration fee, they provide a safe place for families to give camping a go, and provide all kinds of opportunities to learn more about the outdoors. Boulder County Parks was just one of the organizations who participated, with at least 12 or more environmental organizations providing information and education. The groups ranged from conservation raptor groups who actually brought live raptors, including a golden eagle (very cool) to recreation based groups that put up climbing walls, mountain bike courses and a ropes course. In the evening, they hosted a community dinner/barbecue for all the families participating. As incentive to visit all the booths of the conservation groups, they gave each family a passport to get stamped as they visited different booths and tables.
For those of us who are used to more rugged pursuits of camping such as camping in wilderness areas, it may have seemed a little silly to set up your tent with hundreds of other families in a community park. But I realize that camping in the forest can seem scary and foreign to a lot of kids growing up in the suburbs and cities. It’s not something instinctively that they are interested in or want to do. And maybe it will take baby steps to get our kids interested and even having fun in the outdoors, and this type of event is one way to accomplish that.
One thing was for sure, it was just great to meet lots of kids and families who just seemed happy to be playing in the sunshine, enjoying a day with mom and dad. And the best part about all of this, was the one thing that seemed to be missing most of the day, iPads and smart phones. What a clever way to work towards getting our kids to enjoy the great outdoors. I wish more towns put on their own”Great Outdoor Adventure.” Maybe, just maybe, there is hope for future generations to unplug, even if it is for just one night, and enjoy the simple pleasure of a night under the stars with their families.