By Chris Clark and Penelope McPhee
February 2010: Georgia is blessed with abundant natural resources, including nearly 60,000 square miles of mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, marshes and beaches. These resources play a vital role in supporting the state’s economy and quality of life, and they invite us outdoors to explore the wonders of nature.
Yet studies show that children spend less than four minutes a day in outdoor discovery, compared with four hours a day watching television. This imbalance—described by author Richard Louv as “nature-deficit disorder”—is linked to variety of ills, including obesity, depression and attention problems.
At the Department of Natural Resources, we recognize how important it is for children to establish a connection with the natural world. That’s why we created Get Outdoors Georgia, a statewide initiative to highlight the link between outdoor recreation and improved health for people of all ages and abilities. Engaging children in the natural environment is a critical public-health strategy that helps seed lifelong physical, mental and community benefits. It also encourages our children to become stewards of our natural resources and builds a culture of conservation.
Recognizing that nature serves, as Louv explains, as a “healing balm” as powerful as anything from the medicine cabinet, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation has invested nearly $40 million in recent years to increase access to inspiring outdoor spaces and to increase the amount of time children across the state spend in physical activity. Foundation investments have helped create new trails, improve parks and move thousands of kids from sedentary to active lifestyles.
With increased participation by individuals and community groups, we can extend the benefits of outdoor activity to even more children in Georgia. There are a number of action steps you can take.
First, visit www.getoutdoorsgeorgia.org or www.georgiastateparks.org and look for events and activities your children and families can access. You’ll find everything from prowling for owls at Panola Mountain State Park to climbing the staircase inside Tallulah Gorge to Astronomy Night viewings at Providence Canyon.
Across the state, activities at our 63 state parks and historic sites, as well as at wildlife management and public fishing areas, offer opportunities for hiking, paddling, camping, fishing, picnicking, biking, hunting, wildlife watching and much more. The public facilities are affordable and family friendly.
Second, promise your family to spend more time outside - you can Google “green hour” to see how families are pledging to a daily dose of outdoor activity - even if it requires some creativity in urban areas. In his book, “Last Child in the Woods,” Louv includes a field guide with 100 actions individuals and communities can take to get children engaged with nature. You can build a backyard weather station, tend a personal garden or prepare a nature guide documenting trees, birds, rocks and critters in your neighborhood.
Third, be a leader in the movement. Make the commitment today: Get outdoors. Get active. Get involved.
Chris Clark is the DNR Commissioner. Penelope McPhee is president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
Georgia is blessed with abundant natural resources, including nearly 60,000 square miles of mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, marshes and beaches. These resources play a vital role in supporting the state’s economy and quality of life, and they invite us outdoors to explore the wonders of nature.