Kids and Trails Award

This award honors efforts to engage children and youth in outdoor experiences using trails. Creative interpretive, educational, and/or recreational design components are included along with innovative programs which stimulate children's imagination and promote their interest in and appreciation for the natural environment while developing healthy lifestyles.


Wildlands Conservancy’s Bike and Boat Program

Paddling on the Lehigh River Water Trail

The Bike & Boat Program is a model of experiential Environmental Education programming that has connected tens of thousands of kids to the Lehigh River Water Trail and the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Trail.

Wildlands Conservancy is a non-profit land trust located in the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania. The Conservancy’s mission is to protect and restore critical natural areas and waterways, and educate the community to create a legacy of a healthy, sustainable environment for future generations.

Since 1973, the Conservancy has preserved more than 50,000 acres of open space, has improved hundreds of miles of streams and stream corridors, has developed miles of trails and regional trail systems, has restored acres of wildlife habitat, and currently educates more than 14,000 school-aged children each year through Environmental Education and experiential recreation programs. The Conservancy has long been a model for bringing together state and federal agencies, local governments, community groups, and the general public to increase the quality of life for the community through conservation initiatives.

The Lehigh Valley has experienced significant and exponential growth over the last 30 years. Its close proximity to New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. make the Valley a hub for major transportation and manufacturing economies. Rapid growth (suburban sprawl), non-point source pollution, loss of critical habitat, and loss of productive farmland all impact the region adversely. Haphazard development continues to consume thousands of acres of farm and forested land. The need for proper planning and education has never been greater to ensure the protection of our critical green spaces.

photo credit: Wildlands Conservancy
A bike trip on the Lehigh Canal Towpath

A bike trip on the Lehigh Canal Towpath

Wildlands Conservancy knows that the best way to get people involved in the protection of our natural resources is to introduce and connect people to them. The Conservancy’s Bike & Boat Program is program designed to provide kids with an Environmental Education and recreation experience that promotes conservation and responsible stewardship of the Lehigh River watershed’s natural resources.

Participants engage in an exploration of the Lehigh River Water Trail and Lehigh Canal Towpath (Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Trail) by canoe and bicycle with built in educational stops focusing on the health of the waterway, as well as cultural and historical aspects of the area. The approach encourages intellectual and ethical development, personal growth, civic and social responsibility, career exploration and serves as an introduction to life-long, healthy recreational activities such as canoeing, hiking, and biking.

The Bike & Boat Program began in the fall of 1999 with one school district and has now grown to accommodate schools as well as the a broad range of community groups and the general public. Since the program’s inception, nearly 40,000 participants have taken part in the Bike & Boat Program. From August 1, 2012 to July 31, 2014, a total of 7,880 participants took part in the program from 19 different school districts across the region. During the last two years the program has grown significantly, and has connected more kids to nature that ever before.

The proximity of the Lehigh River and the D&L Trail to the large urban areas of Allentown and Bethlehem allow the program to be accessible to a large population of urban youth. Each year approximately 85% of total program registration comes from public, middle school aged students from the Lehigh Valley. The program allows for students to see and experience a 9-mile loop and a “metro-wilderness” trip a stone’s throw from where they live. Several inner city school groups walk from their school to the start location of their Bike & Boat trip; providing an excellent opportunity to see a direct link between their community and nature. Each trip uses the Lehigh River as an outdoor classroom and implements Environmental Education lesson plans throughout the trip focusing on Ecology and History. All curriculums align with current PA Academic Standards and include pre- and post- trip activities to encourage a meaningful and relevant lesson.

Historically, the Lehigh River corridor served as a major transportation route for coal transportation- from the Pennsylvania coal regions to major markets in Philadelphia and New York. The fact that the Lehigh River has played such a significant role in our history makes the experience especially meaningful. To paddle the river once navigated by coal barges, bike the trail once used by mules along the canal, and see the remnants of locks built to combat the elevation change is an incredible history lesson. To conduct water quality tests comparing severely degraded historic conditions to current successes is staggering. These conditions provide a setting for a unique environmental education lesson with clearly visible historical and ecological connections.

In addition to the educational merits of the program, the experience offers an exceptional opportunity for personal growth. As some science teachers seek the program out for ecology opportunities, many gym teachers and counselors use the program specifically for the superior personal achievement and team building benefits that come from taking part in the program’s activities. Additionally, as younger generations are becoming more and more disconnected from nature, promoting these activities encourages going outside and physical fitness through outdoor recreation.

Attendance records have grown steadily since the program’s beginning— and exponentially over the past two years. Letters from parents, teachers, students, and group leaders are astonishing. The program is clearly connecting to and well supported by the community, and is introducing thousands of our future leaders to the Lehigh River Water Trail and the D&L Trail corridor while teaching the importance of responsible stewardship of our natural resources.

More winners of this award

2013: Home Place Adventures

2010: Student Conservation Association