Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nature Nuts!

Nature Nuts Kick-Off With a Goal of Half a Million Kids Outdoors

On the eve of Earth Day week (April 22nd), The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) and its Foundation formally kicked off its newest program, Nature Nuts, at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park on Friday, April 15th. Over 100 fifth graders from Herndon Elementary School joined NVRPA, the Foundation, Supervisor Pat Herrity and Dominion Virginia Power to kick-off this program, which focuses on engaging children with nature. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Foundation subsidized the trip for Herndon Elementary as part of the Nature Nuts program, and each child received a Nature Nuts t-shirt.

Richard Louv launched a national movement to better engage children with nature through his best-selling book Last Child in the Woods. Nature Nuts is a regional program that seeks to provide a meaningful outdoor experience to half a million children over the next five years throughout Northern Virginia. “A big part of the mission of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is to ‘foster an understanding of the relationship between people and their environment,’ and the Nature Nuts program is going to be central to our efforts in this area,” remarked Paul Gilbert, NVRPA Executive Director. “Children today are spending less time in nature and far too much time in front of a screen. Our goal is to counter this trend,” continued Gilbert.

By engaging this many children in nature, this program will have a positive effect through education, health benefits and interaction and education of the environment. The Foundation has set up the Nature Nuts fund, which will support activities that further the goals of the program, including:

Grants to help elementary schools defray the costs of field trips to Hemlock Overlook;

Grants to help send kids to camps like the Junior Naturalist Camp at Potomac Overlook or Camp Grow at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens;

Expansion of NVRPA’s Roving Naturalist Program;

Facility improvements at youth camping sites;

Expansion of rental kayak and canoe operations;

Promotional materials and efforts to get children involved in Nature Nuts.

Nature Nuts will offer great programs and opportunities to reconnect children with the outdoors. Supervisor Pat Herrity reminisced that when he was a child they would spend all day riding their bikes and exploring and playing in parks and natural areas. Times have changed, but the need for children to have unstructured time in nature is just as strong today, but with fewer opportunities.

Currently 85,000 children a year explore nature through the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. Through a combination of child-focused programs and family outdoor activities, children are exploring the natural world at the regional parks. This program will build on this base and address barriers that keep children from having these opportunities.

48,000 children camp in NVRPA parks, nearly 3,000 through youth organizations like scouting and 45,000 through family camping.

Close to 10,000 connect with nature while boating in Regional Parks, over 1,200 local high school students row on the Occoquan Reservoir, and over 8,500 use rented kayaks or canoes or are boating with friends and family on boats they launch at a Regional Park.

Over 15,000 children go through the adventure course run by Adventure Links at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park.

Over 13,000 children learn about nature from an NVRPA naturalist or park staff as part of a children-focused nature education program.

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