Gov. O’Malley’s Proposed Maryland Budget Makes the Case for Connecting Kids to Nature

Swallow Falls State Park in Garrett County, MD (flickr | cseeman)
My Terps are going through a rough patch, but there’s one area where Maryland has proven a great leader—its attention to kids’ outdoor activity and environmental literacy.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley announced recently that nearly $23 million will go toward State Park and public land projects in the proposed FY2013 budget, with a special emphasis on their role as resources to connect the state’s families with the outdoors and provide “better natural play areas for children”:

…The State’s parks will also serve as outdoor classrooms for the State’s new environmental literacy requirements.

“State Parks are the epitome of affordable getaways for families, models for living in harmony with nature, and a vital tonic for the mind, body and spirit,” said Tim Casey, Chair of the Governor’s State Park Advisory Commission. “These strategic investments will benefit millions of Marylanders, increasing access to the outdoors, creating jobs and restoring the environment for today and future generations.”

The budget announcement is only the latest example of Maryland’s support for connecting kids with nature.

Governor O’Malley joined Congressman John Sarbanes, Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources John Griffin, State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick and members of the No Child Left Inside Coalition in 2008 to establish the Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature, a project to ensure all Maryland young people have the opportunity to connect with the natural world and become conservation stewards. Last June, First Lady Katie O’Malley kicked off the Great American Backyard Campout with help from NWF and the Maryland Park Service, pitching a tent with local kids to demonstrate one of the outdoor activities that make up the Maryland Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights.

As for making sure these kids learn about nature in the classroom too, the State Board of the Maryland Department of Education adopted a new policy last year—the first of its kind—requiring high school students in the state to attain a basic level of environmental literacy before graduation. A few months later, Congressman John Paul Sarbanes, who represents Maryland’s third district, introduced a House version of the No Child Left Inside Act (NCLI) to assist states in the development and implementation of stronger environmental literacy programs for K-12 students.

You can see the Maryland State Parks Economic Impact and Visitor Study online here, and stay tuned to Wildlife Promise for updates on this major statement in support of natural play.