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"We envision a Texas where children and their families have safe, convenient, sustainable and desirable access to the outdoors, where they can develop respect and appreciation for the natural environment."

 

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Trails are a key way for Texas kids to be more active outdoors


Book cover with boy at pond

The Texas Children in Nature Strategic Plan

 

A growing body of evidence points to the benefits of physical activity and play in nature to children’s physical and mental health and development. Texas Partnership for Children in Nature focuses on the role of Health, Education, Access, and Community in furthering engagement with nature and increasing understanding of Texas’ natural resources. Stakeholder teams of content experts examined relevant issues, reviewed current research and developed recommendations for each focus area. The plan optimizes partnerships and relies on implementation across multiple public and private sectors. The full report includes their analyses of the problem, objectives and suggested action items.

 

Stakeholder Team Report: ACCESS

As the state’s population becomes more urban and disconnected from natural resources— our lands and waters— it becomes increasingly important to provide accessible, safe and enjoyable outdoor recreation opportunities and to effectively inform and educate the public about them.

For youth, like all Americans, close-to-home opportunities for outdoor recreation are essential. The Outdoor Foundation noted in their 2010 report on youth that the participation rate in outdoor recreation of youth who live in communities with designated walking and biking trails is significantly higher than youth without these designated areas. Youth with nearby walking routes had a 21 percent higher participation rate, and youth with nearby biking routes had a nearly 25 percent higher participation rate. Youth with local outdoor infrastructure average more outings than do those without— about 20 percent higher, on average.

To be successful, governments, nonprofits and the private sector must unite to develop, promote and invest in opportunities for Texans to access outdoor experiences. This aspect of the plan provides recommendations to make access to the outdoors convenient, safe and accessible, and to facilitate further development of places where children and their families can develop a sense of respect and appreciation for the natural environment.

It will take the commitment and involvement of all who care about Texas to ensure ample access to opportunities for outdoor experiences and to pass on values that sustain and conserve this state’s great natural, cultural and outdoor recreation resources.

 

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths

•Partnerships are already working to improve safety and accessibility to the outdoors.
•Volunteer and user groups are generally eager to maintain and expand access.
•There is public desire and political will to address physical inactivity because of its impact on obesity and health-care costs.
•Schoolyards with existing integrated built/natural play environments can be expanded and naturalized.
•There are examples of successful schools with outdoor classrooms and nature-based programming.
•There are examples of built environments that successfully incorporate natural areas.
•Trail grants and local park grants to improve and expand access are available from the state.
•Funding from private sources is increasingly available for improving and expanding access to natural areas.
•More government-control lands and waters could be made available to the public.
•There are examples of private landowners providing public access and field experiences for youth.

Weaknesses

•Nature may not be easily accessible, and outdoor time may not be viewed as safe for some children living in certain areas.
•There is no available current inventory of natural areas and their relative accessibility.
•Opportunities for children and families to use local and state parks are subject to budget cuts during economic downturns.
•Lack of funding for land acquisition to accommodate the projected increase in the state’s population presents a challenge.
•Schools offer fewer field trips to natural areas.
•In times of tight budgets, opening or improving access to public lands may be a challenge.
•Because of budget constraints, school districts may be reluctant to reconfigure schoolyards and playgrounds to provide increased access.
•Retrofitting existing landscapes to enhance access may be costly.
•Barriers, real and perceived, exist that inhibit use of natural areas.
•Liability concerns for landowners and other private partners inhibit access.
•Some areas are inaccessible to those with disabilities.
•Developing a sense of place or a relationship with natural areas depends on multiple visits and is enhanced by quality interpretive elements.

 

GOALS AND OBJECTIVES

 

GOAL 1: Optimize access to natural areas to make them safe and convenient.

Objective 1: Facilitate safe and convenient public access.

Action 1: Encourage federal, state and local agencies to provide easily identifiable, accessible, public transportation routes to natural areas. Examples include bus stops, train stops and bicycle stands.
Action 2: Expand and encourage proactive law enforcement to protect public lands and waterways and the people of Texas.
Action 3: Develop partnerships between schools, park departments and parents to provide training for playleaders or playworkers to staff park and/or school play and learning environments after school and during holidays.
Action 4: Encourage universal design facilities and signage to ensure access to those with all abilities.
Action 5: Encourage grant incentives for federal, state and county designers to partner with other agencies, cities and communities to cost-share development of universal design facilities and signage.

Objective 2: Create hiking, biking, walking and paddling trails with points of access for multiple and diverse users in natural areas, including those with disabilities.

Action 1: Improve the quality and distribution of boat ramps statewide.
Action 2: Reach out to nonprofit organizations and volunteers to assist in creating, operating and managing hiking, biking, walking and paddling trails and other natural areas.
Action 3: Encourage alternate pathways within natural areas that are short and easily accessible to accommodate people who use mobility devices such as walkers, wheelchairs, canes, etc.
Action 4: Create natural rest stops along trails, and provide the public with signage that indicates the length of the trail and the location of additional stops.

Objective 3: Inventory and identify areas that provide experiences in nature.

Action 1: Work with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and other regulatory agencies to evaluate the feasibility of public access to waters at TxDOT-owned bridges and other public locations.
Action 2: Encourage federal, state and local agencies with established trails and natural areas to work with nonprofit organizations to provide internet and GPS-accessible information such as location and coordinates, maps, and points of access, including ADA access icons, at no cost to the entities.
Action 3: Within state trail grants, where applicable, enable applicants to identify other entities/neighbors with adjacent trails or recreation areas and provide incentives to interconnect and manage those trails as cooperative units.

 

GOAL 2: Partner with government agencies, nonprofits and the private sector, in coordination with youth, to provide increased access to Texas lands and waters.

Objective 1: Encourage the creation of more natural areas in schools, neighborhoods, communities and park systems.

Action 1: Support the establishment of “outdoor classrooms” on school campuses.
i. Promote the development of outdoor classrooms along trails to serve as learning laboratories.
ii. Promote the formation of school groups or campus “nature clubs,” and encourage the involvement of local natural resource professionals.
iii. Encourage after-school care programs that focus on nature/outdoor play.
iv. Encourage the linkage of PTAs, the Master Naturalists program and other community outdoor enthusiasts with schools and outdoor classrooms.
Action 2: Encourage and incentivize the creation of pocket parks in communities.
Action 3: Increase the number of safe and accessible parks and playgrounds, particularly in underserved and low-income communities.
Action 4: Develop and consult with a youth advisory board to create natural areas appealing to youth.

Objective 2: Provide additional recreational access to private lands and waters.

Action 1: Encourage wildlife cooperatives to organize recreational activities and events.
Action 2: Collaborate with private landowners to increase public hunting, fishing and other outdoor opportunities.
Action 3: Develop programming and incentives and acquire grant funding for landowners to offer programming, establish youth camps, and provide experiential learning opportunities for underserved children.

Objective 3: Encourage collaboration among adjacent landowners, public and private, to link recreational venues.

Action 1: Encourage the formation of “educational cooperatives” among willing landowners and nearby public natural areas to promote “educational tourism.”
Action 2: Encourage increased collaboration and communication between state and federal land management agencies and the educational community. Develop MOUs between all interested parties pledging future support toward outdoor/ natural resource education.

Objective 4: Support funding for the state park system and local park grants program.

Objective 5: Address liability concerns that limit access to nature on school grounds, parks, public lands and private lands.

Action 1: Seek clarity of liability laws and share findings.
Action 2: Determine recommendations based on findings.

 

GOAL 3: Encourage creation and expansion of natural areas that provide varied and recurring nature-based experiences.

Objective 1: Encourage the creation and expansion of natural areas that facilitate multiple uses and users.

Action 1: Provide universal design facilities for multi-generational families and people with disabilities to better enjoy the outdoors. Action 2: Encourage program development that incorporates multiple opportunities for outdoor experiences and considers multiple levels of fitness and abilities. For example, a site might be conducive to fishing, hiking and restoration work available at the same location for novices and/or enthusiasts.

Objective 2: Encourage the creation and expansion of natural areas that foster recurring or frequent participation.

Action 1: Promote enhanced use through public awareness campaigns for sites near population centers.
Action 2: Highlight and promote the unique aesthetic qualities of natural areas.
Action 3: Support stable funding for land acquisition for publicly-accessible natural areas in close proximity to population centers. Action 4: Identify and promote unique or underrepresented habitats available for public access that are near population centers.

 

GOAL 4: Plan, develop or expand built environments to include natural areas with interpretive elements.

Objective 1: Encourage the creation or expansion of natural play areas and wildscapes at schools.

Action 1: Identify model interpretive projects across the state, and disseminate project plans and potential contacts for support in interpretive product design.
Action 2: Encourage the installation of accessible playscapes and equipment to accommodate children who use mobility devices.
Action 3: Create cost-share programs for school developers to leave native vegetation on the premises when building new schools.

Objective 2: Encourage and identify incentives for the creation of natural areas in residential developments.

Action 1: Identify and disseminate model policies such as open space ordinances for urban design and land use that preserve the natural environment and provide examples of Texas communities that have successfully implemented such policies.
Action 2: Educate reviewing agencies such as city planning departments and planning and zoning boards about the benefits of natural play. Partner with them to develop incentive criteria for those developers that preserve accessible natural space, including sample open-space ordinances.
Action 3: Mobilize the Texas Recreation and Parks Society (TRAPS) and Texas Municipal League membership to educate local decision-makers such as city councils, realtor associations, planning and zoning boards, about the need for more open space and accessibility using documentation prepared by the TPCIN.
Action 4: Create and encourage grant programs similar to the TPWD recreational trails grant
program to provide funding for projects that add natural areas to residential developments.

Objective 3: Encourage and identify incentives for the creation of natural areas in commercial developments.

Action 1: Educate reviewing agencies (city planning departments and planning and zoning boards) about the benefits of natural play, and partner with them to develop incentive criteria for those developers that preserve accessible natural space.
Action 2: Promote and document the positive economic benefits of natural areas to statewide organizations representing the real-estate, development and building communities.
Action 3: Mobilize TRAPS and Texas Municipal League membership to educate local decision-makers such as city councils, realtor associations, planning and zoning boards about the need for more commercially-centered natural areas and accessibility using documentation prepared by the Texas Partnership for Children in Nature.

Objective 4: Include interpretive elements in natural areas.

Action 1: Ensure that interpretive elements are included on public lands and waters.
Action 2: Encourage and provide incentives and/or avenues for interpretive elements on private lands.
Action 3: Encourage interpretive elements that incorporate multiple learning styles, experiential learning and alternative access.
Action 4: Provide materials that model interpretive design.

 

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