Secretary Vilsack Announces $1,000,000 for Children’s Forests, Getting More Kids in the Woods

As today’s technologically advanced and media driven society reaches all ages, more and more children are opting to jump behind a computer screen or television rather than jumping on a bike or in a soccer goal. The sweeping disconnect with the outdoors, especially the natural world, is leading to epidemic levels of childhood obesity and inactivity.   

As cherry blossoms pop up all over Washington, D.C. and as winter is soon to be a distant memory, my immediate thought is my mother encouraging my brother, sister and I to go play outside until the night falls.  However as we face a changing economic, political, and social environment, it seems that swinging on trees, playing in fields, and collecting bugs and worms to make “delicious” mud pies is not the “norm”  for the future generation of kids. Given this scary reality, I personally see the true value in programs that promote time outdoors for children, and hope that one day, it will not just be me urging my kids to get outside, get dirty, and learn something in nature, but the larger community as well.   

Kids running

The US Forest Service is a major force contributing to a growing national movement to bring kids to nature—and nature to kids.  On April 4th, 2011, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $1 million in cost-share funding for children’s programs furthering USDA’s commitment to connect young people around the nation with America’s great outdoors.  This announcement comes at the heels of President Obama’s unveiling of the America’s Great Outdoors: A Promise to Future Generations report which encourages active, outdoor lifestyles.  Similarly, Let’s Move Outside!, was launched nearly a year ago as the outdoor component of the comprehensive initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama aims to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation

Now in its fifth year, The More Kids in the Woods program is a competitive funding program for partnership projects that engage kids in active, meaningful learning experiences that get kids outside. Projects focus on reaching diverse youth and serving under-served populations, using outdoor activities and nature-based learning to create meaningful and lasting connections to nature and to advance children’s health.  This year each region of the Forest Service also has a new Children’s Forest initiative!  All of these programs help kids to make the connection between healthy forests, healthy communities and their own healthy lifestyles.  In 2010, funded projects reached more than 15,000 young people.

“The value of these programs and partnerships for youth must not be underestimated,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Young people are tomorrow’s stewards of our public lands, and we must invest in building lasting and meaningful connections between our youth and America’s great outdoors.”