Partnership Aims to Get More Kids Outdoors

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Secretary Jewell and YMCA President and CEO Neil Nicoll sign the agreement.

U.S. Department of the Interior / Flickr

Secretary Jewell and YMCA President and CEO Neil Nicoll sign the agreement.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has joined with YMCA of the USA and the National League of Cities to get more kids outdoors.

“The millennial generation is … more disconnected from nature than any generation before," Jewell said in announcing the partnership last week.

The Department of the Interior will provide opportunities for the Y and the League of Cities to carry out activities on the lands it manages, which include more than 75 urban national parks.

“Kids really have lost outdoor opportunities,” said Katie Adamson, senior director of health partnerships and policy for YMCA of the USA. African-American and Hispanic youth in urban areas are particularly less likely to have outdoor experiences, she said.

The Y has carried out research on the barriers young people face to getting outdoors. In one city, for example, families said that although there was a nearby park, they wouldn’t go there because local gangs were engaged in a turf battle over the area.

Adamson said there are many reasons it’s important for youth to spend time outdoors.

Children with attention deficit disorder benefit from being outside, she said. Kids who are spending more time indoors in front of computer screens are developing vision problems.

The Interior Department’s goal is to involve 10 million kids in outdoor recreation or learning activities. It plans to develop or enhance partnerships in 50 cities over the next four years.

It also seeks to triple the number of volunteers on public land to 1 million annually.

With 338 camps across the nation, the Y is the largest camping provider in the nation, Adamson said. And while most people do not live in proximity to national parks, they do live in proximity to the nation’s 2,700 YMCAs, which can link them to outdoor activities.

The partnership fits, Adamson said, because the Y has the young people, the mayors know the needs of their cities and the Interior Department has the parks and wilderness areas.

The Interior Department’s agreement with the Y and the National League of Cities comes on the heels of a secretarial order issued by Jewell in March to increase recreational, educational, volunteer and career opportunities for veterans and youth on U.S. public lands. It will be carried out through partnerships with youth organizations, businesses and the Obama administration's 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.

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