A conference held in West Virginia last month explored ways to create a stronger connection between children and the outdoors. Reintroducing children to the outdoors is considered an important link in addressing the disturbing increase in children’s health issues, including obesity, diabetes and attention disorders.
“For eons, human beings spent most of their formative years in nature, but within the space of a few decades, the way children in many Western countries understand and experience nature has changed radically, with profound implications for mental and physical health, cognitive development, creativity and for the future of nature itself,” said author Richard Louv. Louv, who spoke at the conference, wrote the best-selling book Last Child in the Woods. Louv has dubbed the disconnect between children and nature the “nature deficit disorder.”
Bill and Sharon Van Horn from the Franklin-based Nantahala Hiking Club were among 350 educators, developers, health professionals and conservationists to attend the conference. Nantahala Hiking Club members believe the beauty of the Western North Carolina mountains must be shared with our children. Getting children in nature makes them appreciate the outdoor environment and plants the seeds for future conservation efforts.
“Spending time outdoors, fishing and just playing around in the woods was an important part of my childhood,” said H. Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Our kids need to have chances to tromp through a woodlot or muck around in a creek. That’s the foundation of a healthy relationship with the outdoors and a way to spark a conservation ethic.”
Some of the nation’s most influential and inspirational minds — business leaders, high-ranking elected officials, foundation presidents, medical professionals and educators — focused on identifying key disconnects between children and nature within four areas: health, media and culture, education and the urban and built environment.
“Healing the broken bonds between children and nature is in our best interest and well within our reach,” said Larry Selzer, president of The Conservation Fund. “People protect what they love, and only love what they understand and value. If we cannot help our children build stronger connections with nature now, it is possible that we will raise a generation with no inclination to enjoy or steward our most precious natural resources.”
The Nantahala Hiking Club in coordination with the American Hiking Society’s Southeastern Foot Trails Coalition is working with the Macon County school system to increase awareness of the numerous local hiking opportunities and the psychological and physical benefits hiking provides. The Nantahala Hiking Club is one of the 30 clubs in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy that voluntarily maintain the 2,100 plus miles of the Appalachian trail, leads hikes in the local area every weekend.
Support for the conference was provided by AKT Development Corporation, The Conservation Fund, Richard Louv and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through its National Conservation Training Center.