Wednesday, January 18, 2012

“America’s Great Outdoors” starts in your own backyard

The America’s Great Outdoors Initiative was established by President Obama in April at a White House Conference to start a “National Conversation” to gather input for projects to help reconnect Americans, especially children, with nature.

The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality were asked by the President to host 12 -20 “listening sessions” around the country to hear from people and groups involved in conservation and recreation efforts and programs. The topic was: how do we get more people outside, involved with nature.

In addition to the formal and informal listening sessions (some of them were online chats), comments, stories and ideas were collected through the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative webpage on the Interior Department’s website:

Anyway, as soon as I heard about the Initiative, I started inundating the website (listed above), their Facebook page, and their online chats. What were my ideas? Basically, that connecting people with nature doesn’t necessarily mean taking a trip to a park somewhere. Nature starts right outside our back doors, in our gardens.

Well, the results of all of their surveys and data collection were recently released in a 111 page report: America’s Great Outdoors: A Promise to Future Generations February 2012. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but what I have read has inspired and enthused me. I wish I could print the whole thing here, but I encourage you to download a copy for yourself and give it a read.

Below are some excerpts of the report:

  • “America’s Great Outdoors begins when you open your front door and step outside— whether it is onto an urban stoop, a suburban sidewalk or a rural front porch. Before we can reach the National Parks, Trails, or Wilderness Areas, we enter into our neighborhoods, downtowns, community gardens and parks. Appreciating the Great Outdoors means exploring the places where we live, work and play; the places that define the human environment. By first cultivating a sense of stewardship in our communities, we encourage stewardship of cultural and natural resources beyond our immediate surroundings.”(Written comment from website)
  • “We need a philosophical change of what the great outdoors is. We don’t need to go out west or to some faraway place. It can be a little stream, out your door, even if it’s in the city. It exists where we exist.” (Listening Session Participant, Hyde Park, NY )
  • Many people articulated a need to redefine the “great outdoors” to include iconic national parks and forests, wildlife refuges, and cultural and historic sites, as well as neighborhood and city parks, community gardens, and school yards.
  • AGO (America’s Great Outdoors) seeks to empower all Americans—citizens, young people,and representatives of community groups; the private sector; nonprofit organizations; and local, state, and tribal governments—to share in the responsibility to conserve, restore, and provide better access to our lands and waters in order to leave a healthy, vibrant outdoor legacy for generations yet to come.
  • Americans communicated clearly that they care deeply about our outdoor heritage, want to enjoy and protect it, and are willing to take collective responsibility to protect it for their children and grandchildren. In fact, they are already doing so. They are restoring rivers and streams, building and improving hiking trails and bike paths, ensuring the long-term conservation of their private lands, sponsoring beach and roadside cleanups, planting trees and gardens, and restoring migratory bird habitat and populations.

What’s really great about this whole project is that we, the citizens of this country, were asked our opinions about what needs to be done to reconnect people with nature. And from our answers, action is being taken to help make a positive difference. You can see a list of some of the projects that are being implemented across the country in response to the input from the Great Outdoors Initiative by visiting this website: Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. Projects include:

  • Interfaith-Intercommunity Nature Gardens in Washington DC - Work with partners to develop a “toolkit” for greater Washington, D.C. houses of faith that will help create a multi-denomination Sacred “Green Corridor” in the greater Washington, D.C. area.
  • Patuxent Tidewater Conservation Plan in Maryland - A regional landscape conservation plan for Southern Maryland guiding land conservation efforts of the Patuxent Tidewater Land Trust and encouraging collaborative initiatives with local public and private partners.
  • Groundwork Richmond - Develop plans for adaptive reuse of Richmond brownfield sites that support environmental restoration, neighborhood revitalization, youth engagement, and urban park development goals.

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