Last week, President Obama introduced the final report of America’s Great Outdoors Initiative at a presentation at the White House. The president launched the initiative in 2010 with the charge of developing an approach to conservation for the 21st century. The final report incorporates 10 months of public input, involving more than 50 listening sessions around the country. Twenty-one of those were held specifically with young Americans.
The youth listening sessions, which included young audiences in Annapolis, MD; Hyde Park, NY; and Philadelphia, PA, asked participants about their experiences in the outdoors and their interest in and concern for the environment. Reading through detailed notes from these sessions, provided on the initiative website, I saw desire, but also great frustration.
Young people in the Philadelphia session complained that they could take buses to the mall but not to parks, open space, or important cultural sites such as Valley Forge. “If you go bike riding you will get hit by a car,” said one participant. “I live near the beach and trails but if the only way to get there is by car, who’s going to take me?”
Some comments held up unflattering mirrors to the adults in the community: “A lot of parents just don’t care,” said one Philadelphia participant. “I just took a 15-year-old friend who’d never been camping in her life. I have friends who have never seen snow or gone skiing. It all depends on your family. If they don’t care, you will never get the chance.”
In his remarks at the White House, President Obama acknowledged the issues and frustrations raised in the youth sessions. “We see our kids spending more time indoors,” he said. “For a lot of folks, it’s easy to go days without stepping on a single blade of grass.”
The president maintained a focus on families and children as he laid out the report’s recommendations. He spoke of making it easier for families to get outside no matter where they live, of building and improving urban parks and waterways and making public lands more accessible. “To encourage young people to put down their remotes and turn off video games,” he said to sustained applause, “we will establish a new conservation service corps so they can build lifelong relationships with their natural heritage.”
The final report includes a special section, Youth and America’s Great Outdoors: What We Heard from America’s Young People. The report highlights a four-point youth agenda for America’s Great Outdoors:
• Make the outdoors relevant to today’s young people: make it inviting, exciting, and fun. • Ensure that all young people have access to outdoor places that are safe, clean, and close to home. • Empower and enable youth to work and volunteer in the outdoors. • Build upon a base of environmental and outdoor education, both formal and informal.
In his remarks, the president reminded his audience of the country’s long history of conservation, even during periods of war and economic depression. His point was clear: Even in tough economic times, we can — and must — extend that long tradition.
Learn more - Read the full report, the executive summary, and the special youth section - Read notes taken during listening sessions. Sessions within the AMC region include Annapolis, MD; Hyde Park, NY; Bangor, ME; Concord, NH; Poughkeepsie, NY; and Philadelphia, PA. - Watch President Obama’s presentation of the America’s Great Outdoors report