Inspiring New Strategies to “Get the Fun Outside”: Perspectives on the First-Ever Southeast Regional Outdoor Nation Summit

This is a guest post from Dejia Freeman, a graduate of the National Wildlife Federation’s Atlanta Earth Tomorrow Program and current program assistant for Earth Tomorrow.

Until a couple of weekends ago, I had never seen so many dedicated, multi-faceted, and inspirational people in one room in my life! The energy for the whole weekend at Clark Atlanta University for the first-ever Outdoor Nation Southeast Regional Summit in Atlanta was electric, and it remained at an amazing high for the entire event!

Outdoor Nation was founded by a group of “Outsiders” who have a passion for the outdoors that they use to fuel and inspire others, especially youth and young adults between the ages of 18-26, to care about and engage with America’s “Great Outdoors.” This summer they have been hosting summits all across America, awarding grant funds to youth to implement awesome outdoor projects, leading outdoor fun days for youth attending the summits, and working to connect with youth in an effort to create a new “outdoor culture” that is fun, meaningful, and impactful for all despite geographic location, race and ethnicity, or socio-economic status.

Photo by Jessica Rios

These Outdoor Nation Summits are being hosted by the Outdoor Foundation, in partnership with The North Face, the Conservation Fund, the REI Foundation and tons of other groups interested in getting youth outside. The way this group sees it, the world would be a better place if everyone spent less time inside and more time outdoors. One community at a time, they are inspiring a revolution to make that happen.

I attended the Outdoor Nation with a group of fellow graduates from the National Wildlife Federation’s Atlanta Earth Tomorrow Program. From the beginning of this three-day experience, we were all committed to finding solutions to help get more youth outside. We all had different experiences, customs, and backgrounds, but wanting to find a solution to this nationwide epidemic gave us common ground, and kept us engaged and hopeful that we can make a difference. A large portion of our dialogue was focused on overcoming barriers to getting people of color more involved in the outdoors as well as past experiences and success stories about our involvement in conservation and environmental groups. Later that night we were introduced to the New Wilderness Project, an awesome performance that used poetry and music to share experiences about the great outdoors.

A key part of the summit was the Summer Fun Day held at Sweetwater Creek State Park, which is 20 minutes outside of the city of Atlanta. There we participated in rock climbing, kayaking, paddle boating, hiking, swimming, pitching a tent, and a sleeping bag “stuffing” contest.  Our “fun in the sun” proved to be a great motivation to identify ways to ensure that all youth can experience fun days at their state parks and other local outdoor spaces all year round.

Photo by Melissa Vega

We topped off our day with a good old fashioned hay ride to a nearby campfire where we listened to some of Outdoor Nation’s sponsors from The North Face who shared their amazing journeys in the outdoors which included trips to Belize and climbing Mount Everest. With each outdoor experience shared, the speakers told us how those experiences inspired them to get involved with conservation and advocacy efforts to protect our environment. Their stories resonated with each of us and showed us that there is not one path or experience that can lead you to an appreciation for the outdoors and nature; the journey is as diverse and multi-faceted as we all are.

As the Summit closed we were sent forth to do great things in our own communities! Everyone left pumped and ready to tackle the issues and barriers discussed so that we can implement solutions in our respective states to get more youth outdoors! The Southeast Outdoor Nation Regional Summit was a blast—I left with new friends, new interests, new activities to try, and new strategies to GTFO (Get the Fun Outside) for youth!