Celebrate Earth Day – Let’s Go Outside!
In celebration of Earth Day and National Children & Nature Awareness month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is encouraging you to get outside and enjoy the beauty and spring-time wonders of the natural world.
The Service recently launched its Let?s Go Outside! initiative to encourage Americans to spend time outdoors. It’s a great way to foster meaningful experiences for the entire family and create a life-long connection to the environment. Recent research has shown it can also improve one?s overall health and well-being.
“There may be no greater legacy than connecting children with nature that the Service can leave for future generations,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall. “We are joining the nationwide movement to invite families to turn off their digital music and video games and spend some quality family time outside.”
The Let’s Go Outside! initiative stems from a summit with Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” Current research shows the American people, especially children, are spending less time involved in outdoor recreational activities than any previous generation. Nature is important to children’s development – intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually and physically; and research indicates that as our youngsters’ connection with nature has diminished, childhood ailments and medical problems have vastly increased. Even the simple activity of playing outside helps children develop better motor skills, physical fitness and general health, and can create a life-long appreciation for the environment.
For more than a century, the Service has provided numerous wildlife-oriented public use opportunities at National Wildlife Refuges and other field projects. The Let’s Go Outside! initiative will refocus the Service’s current programs or design new programs to increase opportunities for all Americans, especially children, to forge a new connection with nature. These include activities such as hunting, fishing, observing and photographing wildlife, or simply exploring and discovering nature on National Wildlife Refuges and local parks, or creating schoolyard habitats to bring nature to children.
April 2008 was named Children & Nature Awareness month by the Children and Nature Network, and April 22, 2008 is Earth Day. During the month of April, countless opportunities are being offered for children and adults nationwide to enjoy outdoor activities.
Spending family time outside is easy and fun. Below are just a few examples of how the Fish and Wildlife Service is providing opportunities in your community:
On Saturday, April 19, 2008, the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, and Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies are hosting a “Kids in Nature Workshop” for parents and caregivers of children ages 5-10. The event will include a slide show featuring outdoor recreational opportunities for children in the Kachemak Bay area, and environmental educators will introduce several outdoor, hands-on activities adults can try with their youngsters.
The San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex’s Environmental Education Center is sponsoring several events. On April 26, families can help enhance wildlife habitat along Guadalupe Slough by removing trash and recyclables from wetlands and levees adjacent to the slough. Then on April 27, families will have the opportunity to enhance upland habitat for migratory birds and resident animals by planting native species in the Refuge’s chemical-free native plant garden.
In partnership with Tarpon Bay Explorers and the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge will host Earth Day 2008 on Saturday, Apr. 19, with the theme Reconnect: Earth, Family, Fitness. The first 100 kids to arrive for Earth Day will receive a free Let’s Go Outside! explorer backpack containing binoculars, sunglasses, a magnifying glass, a compass and more. Tarpon Bay Explorers, the refuge’s official concessions operator, will be providing free bike use on-site at the refuge. Rangers will host programs on alligators and crocodiles and endangered species. Families can also participate in arts and crafts activities.
The Dworshak National Fish Hatchery volunteers and staff will provide environmental education programs on April 22, 24 and 26. The activities focus on fisheries, wildlife, soils, fire, noxious weeds, insects and forestry. The days’ events are conducted outdoors on the banks of the river providing a great natural setting to help teach environmental conservation.
The Great Plains Nature Center is the destination for numerous school and youth groups celebrating Earth Day in Kansas. The nature center at Chisholm Creek Park is an “outdoor classroom.” Visitors have access to a 3,400 square foot exhibit hall with displays and exhibits, a wildlife observatory overlooking a wetland, 2,200-gallon aquarium with native Kansas fishes, and two classrooms filled with live critters including screech owls, a burrowing owl, and scads of snakes.
On Sunday, April 20, the Service’s Missouri Field Office will participate in an Earth Day event in Columbia, MO, and will be performing Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax play with children from the Lee Expressive Arts School on stage at the event.
There will be something for everyone during Montana Outdoor Science School’s 10th Annual Watershed Festival held at the US Fish Wildlife Service’s Bozeman Fish Technology Center. An expected 800 children and their families will celebrate the return of spring and the important role water plays in our world. The festival promotes environmental awareness and responsible stewardship. This free community event will be held on May 17th and involves numerous hands-on activities, fun presentations and educational displays.
On April 22, 2008, the Society for Public Health Educators will host a Webinar about reconnecting our nation’s children with the natural world. Health professionals, conservation organizations, environmental education groups and various government entities will listen to presentations and participate in discussions about the various health benefits of reconnecting kids with our National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, and other wonderful forms of nature.
The McCarran Ranch near Reno, Nevada, will highlight a multi-partner wetland/river restoration project on the Truckee River on April 22. The Service’s Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office and The Nature Conservancy will provide 240-360 school children a hands-on opportunity to learn about wetlands, river functions, native and non-native vegetation, and how the ranch lands were restored.
Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge is sponsoring a Youth Forum for the Environment on April 19 and 20. The forum is a networking opportunity for teenagers in the southwest who have undertaken a significant project that improves the natural environment in their community. Students from 10 different schools in Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico will present their projects to each other, participate in a Service research project, and meet Service biologists and quiz them on their careers.
Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia is hosting their annual eagle festival on April 19th, and will officially rename the refuge the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge. This family event features animal displays, bluegrass music, live animals and the release of a rehabilitated bald eagle.
The Winona District of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge will be celebrating Earth Day on Saturday, April 26 with a river clean-up. The effort will focus on debris left in the Garvin Brook floodplain following the August 2007 flash flood which caused over $700,000 worth of damage to the District. Families are invited to join this community project and volunteer in helping to restore the shores of the Mississippi River.
For more information on Let’s Go Outside! and for ideas on how to connect with nature, please visit the Service’s website at http://www.fws.gov/children/.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.