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NWF Celebrates with Military Kids and Families in the Great Outdoors
On Sunday, April 1st, NWF’s Be Out There campaign joined the Sierra Club, the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, the National Military Family Association, and more than twenty other organizations at an event to kick off the Month of the Military Child at Prince William Forest Park.
The Celebration of the Military Child Outdoors (or COMCO) brought about 200 military kids and family members to the park and featured various outdoor activities including guided hikes, fly fishing, freshwater invertebrate and tree identification, a live raptor exhibit, and nature games. Although COMCO was for families with one or more active duty service members, all visitors to the park that day enjoyed a fee-free day courtesy of the National Park Service.
A recurring theme for the day, echoed by guest speakers including NPS Director Jon Jarvis, was that these children are our nation’s youngest heroes who face challenges that non-military kids do not, like parents who are away for multiple deployments and the possibility of having to move every couple of years.
Opportunities to connect to nature — and to their peers — offer many benefits for military kids. Jackie Ostfeld, a National Youth Representative for the Sierra Club says that the outdoors “gives them an outlet for some of the stress and worry they feel at home” and lets kids just be kids. Spending time outdoors is also a great way for parents to de-stress and find strength in a natural setting.
A 2010 study found that children of deployed parents are much more likely to suffer from stress disorders and to have behavioral problems. Time spent in the outdoors, meanwhile, has been found to reduce stress and provide many other physical and mental health benefits. In other words, as Stacy Bare, the Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors Military Families and Veterans Representative says, “the outdoors heals.”
Historically speaking, Prince William Forest Park is a fitting venue for such an event: it was designed with kids in mind as a site for summer camps, and constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. And thanks in part to the proximity of Marine Corps Base Quantico, Marine Corps volunteers were crucial to event logistics. The park is located 35 miles south of Washington, DC and contains 15,000 acres of forest and 37 miles of hiking trails.
Volunteers from NWF helped kids make nature-inspired arts and crafts and led nature games. And everybody’s favorite NWF mascot Ranger Rick himself was in attendance, offering hugs, high-fives and autographs for kids of all ages!