National, state officials pledge comprehensive effort to connect children and nature

A recent National Conference on Parks ended with a ground-breaking agreement designed to improve the health of America’s children.

The National Association of State Park Directors, under the leadership of newly-elected President Greg Butts -- director of Arkansas State Parks -- and the National Park Service Leadership Council led by National Park Service Director Mary Bomar, signed a resolution pledging that state and national parks would work together to combat obesity and reduce incidences of diabetes, attention disorders, and other mental and physical maladies resulting from a lack of outdoor exercise and contact with nature.

Jerry Hover, Kansas Parks Division director, called the agreement both historic and timely. "There is little doubt that many of the nation’s youth prefer to spend time indoors watching TV and playing video games rather than getting outdoors and learning about nature," Hover said. "Being outdoors and active is very important to our mental and physical health.”

Hover credited author Richard Louv, who wrote Last Child in the Woods; Saving our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder, with sparking a national movement and being the driving force behind this healthy lifestyle movement.

Hover also credits U. S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and Bomar with driving home the importance of addressing this national health crisis during their conference presentations.

In his remarks at the conference, Kempthorne pledged to rally the federal agencies he oversees to work collaboratively with the states. “I hope we can reach a day when families and children move seamlessly from state parks to national parks, with doors open everywhere and pathways that lead from one program to another, from one life-changing and life-enriching experience to another,” he said. “A day when children beg their parents to take them to a park as much as they beg them to buy a new video game.”

Bomar called the state and national parks the front line in the effort to reconnect children and their families to outdoor recreation and nature. The compact signed by the state and national parks recognizes that by working together they can make a bigger impact. Specifically the agreement calls for the following action by state and national parks:

  • focus on individual initiatives to increase public awareness of the value of connecting children and nature, toward a goal of improving the knowledge of our nation’s natural resources and the health and welfare of present and future generations of young Americans;
  • join in a continuing dialogue to discuss common issues and implement solutions to create a seamless system of services;
  • share information and knowledge on developing and expanding natural resource education and recreation opportunities for children and their families;
  • engage other federal, state, local, tribal and non-government partners in shared technology and interactive programs and problem solving activities to achieve mutual goals to connect children and nature; and
  • promote a national campaign to recognize the importance of connecting children and families to nature.

For additional information, visit the National Association of State Park Directors website.