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Kids need trails, and trails need kids

Finding common ground and community among all trail users.

From Continental Divide Trail News, Summer 2001

By Dennis Madsen

"We can't all share the same trail, but we do share many common needs and goals."

The outdoors fills most of my important memories. Chief among those treasures are the memories I have of raising my children and introducing them to the wonder that trails provide us. It was a great way to bond with my kids and teach them about plants, animals, and the beauty to be found all around us.

The impacts go beyond mere appreciation, though. I knew at the time that I was creating the next generation of earth stewards. All of my kids take conservation seriously, and one of my daughters has gone on to working with kids through a variety of outdoor summer camps teaching kids about the wonderful things found in the outdoors. Just as I took the time to share my passion for the outdoors, she now is passing it on to the next generation.

REI pursues this same ethic. This year, we're encouraging our stores to focus on working with youth in annual community service projects. For examplle, our Brentwood, Tenn., store has teamed with local youth organizations to create five miles of new ridge top trails at Edgar Evans State Park in middle Tennessee.

I know the Continental Divide Trail Alliance agrees. It proactively works with youth to build and maintain the trail. [Editor's note: the CDTA won a 2007 CRT Annual Achievement Award for its work with youth.] CDTA Executive Director Bruce Ward told me of a letter he received from a young girl who had pitched in on one of these outings. She spoke with pride about the experience. She spoke of some day coming back to the very spot she worked on with her children.

Will your kids of the young people in your neighborhood cherish similar memories? Given recent trends, they may not. For many kids today the glow in the evening is from a TV, computer, or video game. The nights are filled with city sounds, and streetlights blot the stars. Wildlife is more often seen on the Discovery Channel and PBS. This trend can only be reversed through the efforts of parents, grandparents, famiily, volunteers, outdoor businesses, and others to involve kids in the outdoors.

It is said that two-thirds of the people who enjoy outdoor experiences were introduced to them before the age of 17. Conversely this means that if one isn't exposed to the outdoors as a child it's less likely this will be an interest as an adult..

There is more at stake here than simply whether or not kids get to go camping or hiking. The outdoors offers kids a place where they can put their lives into perspective and better understand the intricate interdependencies of our planet. The pursuit of an outdoor acvity broadens one's mind, strengthens one's body, and can deepen one's community. These values contribute directly and positively to people individually, and to our society as well.

Youth participation in the outdoors is also essential to the future of our public lands and trails. Outdoor users become advocates for the protection of the lands and trails we enjoy. People who have walked in the wilderness are likely to ensure the future of these areas. A hiker or biker who has enjoyed forest trails becomes a future trails advocate.

Obviously, I don't have to convince the readers of this column about how important trails are. But maybe you haven't considered what an impact trails can have on youth. If so, why not take a child out with you the next time you go hiking?

Let's get kids out on trails. We all win when that happens.


Submit your opinion, article, or editorial to American Trails at Trailhead@AmericanTrails.org or if you have questions call us at (530) 547-2060.

American Trails offers this website as a public resource to share ideas and opinions on trails and greenways. We have not evaluated the accuracy, feasibility, or legality of any of the material or articles. The opinions and editorials presented here do not necessarily reflect the opinion or support of American Trails. American Trails does not discriminate against individuals or groups on the basis or race, religion, nationality, or political affliiation.

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