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The journey to the answer - we all need to be connected

By Nicole Pokorney

Photo taken of 'connections' sign in the woods

My professional leave to tackle the topic of access and equity for youth in the outdoors has been quite a journey. I set off without knowing my destination, with a handwritten, unfinished map. Along the way I found myself bushwhacking through tough readings, venturing off on side trails to more information, and stopping at places of awe. The tangled web of trails finally converged for me when I came across a sign at the entrance to the woods that read,  “Connections in nature, with each other, with art, with the universe...WE ARE ALL CONNECTED.” This simple sign seemed to condense my hours of research and reading into a theme - the imperative need for connections to nature, to each other, and to the land.

Connections to nature. In my last blog post, I stressed the need to connect youth to nature in ways that best fit their learning styles, passions and hobbies. Today I’d go further to argue that everyone needs to be connected to nature, and that every program, regardless of content, has a responsibility to connect youth to nature. This connection is not only dire for the future of the environment, but for our mental, social, and physical health. All youth, regardless of their initial interest in the outdoors, need to experience programs that foster a relationship with nature.

Connections to each other. While the goal is to have all youth grow in their relationship with nature, the outdoors are not accessible to all. According to the 2021 outdoor trends, 72% of outdoor participants are white, with 54% of those being male. People of color are much less likely to seek recreation, adventure, and solace in nature (Hispanic - 11%, Black - 9%, and Asian - 6%). Youth-serving organizations need to provide quality and impactful outdoor experiences for all young people to learn about and connect with nature, including providing social supports to create safe and supportive environments.

Connections to the land. In his foreword to the A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold would argue that it is an ethics issue. We take care of what we love and respect. Concerning inequities to experiencing a connection to nature, in his book, The Adventure Gap, James Edward Mills pleas, “It’s estimated that in 2042, the majority of US citizens will be nonwhite. Which begs the question: What happens when a majority of the population has neither an affinity for nor a relationship with the natural world?”

Over and over the message is clear - we all need to be connected to nature. What is your reaction to this statement? What systems changes do you see that need to happen to make this a reality?

-- Nicole Pokorney, Extension educator

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  1. Nicole, I admire your spirit! My deep connection with nature has seen me through some of life's difficulties, so I viscerally understand what you're saying. I'd like to add my perspective.

    I experience nature as an expression of something greater which I call the Divine. It's something that can be personally experienced by all of us irregardless of our life circumstance or where we are -- it's who we are, and it's what makes life worth living.

    So I believe that we can best serve youth by empowering them to find out who they are . We can do that by empowering them to get in touch with and develop their strengths, which will ignite their creative spirit and, ultimately, empower them to become whole human beings.

    Experiencing nature can be a wonderful, full of awe way to do that (summer camp in the forest helped me along in that direction), but other natural ways such as the arts can do it too. It's a matter of discovering ourselves. Once youth begin to learn who they are -- who they naturally are -- they start to take care of themselves and others.


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