Outside is for Everyone
By George Dusenbury, state director for The Trust for Public Land in Georgia
Do you remember your favorite childhood field trip or summer break excursion? Perhaps you lived for jumping in the lake and enjoying Fourth of July fireworks and cookouts. Did you sit around a fire pit singing songs at camp, explore the beach with family and friends, or lazily tube down the river during the dog days of summer? Would you be as healthy or active today without those experiences? Would you have the same appreciation for the world around you?
These days, fewer than 18 percent of Americans recreate outside even once per week, and fewer than 50 percent report participating in an outdoor activity even once per year, according to the Outdoor Foundation’s Outdoor Participation Report. People who live in urban areas often lack easy access to greenspace and recreation areas; in some communities, just being outside raises concerns about personal safety. These factors help explain why children living in low-income households spend twice as much time in front of a screen as do children in higher income households.
The Trust for Public Land is committed to ensuring everyone–right here in Georgia and around the country–can spend time outside, to reap the social, physical and mental health benefits of connecting with nature. And because the Chattahoochee River touches so many communities and provides so much opportunity for varied recreation, we are making the river and its shores a centerpiece for helping us meet that goal.
For decades, the Chattahoochee River has been a focal point for The Trust for Public Land’s work in Georgia. The river runs through our city, providing drinking water, economic growth and recreation. Yet so many people are disconnected from the Chattahoochee–literally and physically. If we expect tomorrow’s leaders to value, prioritize and invest in the river–and all natural resources–we must make sure they have opportunities to experience it.
That belief is the driving force behind the Thrive Outside Community Initiative. This new collaboration will provide meaningful, positive outdoor experiences for kids and families from underserved areas of the city, connecting them both to the wonders of the Chattahoochee and to community parks near their homes.
The Trust for Public Land has pulled together a coalition of like-minded organizations, including the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Greening Youth Foundation, Chattahoochee Nature Center, and the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. With support from the Outdoor Foundation, we will leverage our strengths to immerse today’s screen-addicted youth in a range of outdoor activities that introduce new hobbies and spur new passions, opening up new worlds of adventure for children and families.
As study after study correlates too much screen time with negative effects on children’s development, including issues with depression and sleep issues, memory, attention and language skills, returning to nature has never been more important.
While programs like Thrive Outside focus on providing children with access to safe outdoor recreation, we all can play a role in creating recreational opportunities for future generations. The Trust for Public Land, the Atlanta Regional Commission, City of Atlanta and Cobb County have commissioned a study to develop a comprehensive and inspiring vision for the future of the Chattahoochee River. The goal is to activate the Chattahoochee RiverLands–part of the more than 18,000 acres and 80 miles of riverfront that The Trust for Public Land has helped conserve. I invite you to follow and engage in this process through the Chattahoochee RiverLands website and on its Facebook page.
As the hot, lazy days of summer beckon us to spend more time outdoors enjoying nature, I encourage you to set an example for our youth by plugging into the vast natural resources around us: Try kayaking for the first time; borrow one of the bikes available through bike programs around the region; hike alongside the Chattahoochee and explore the hidden waterfalls. Invite neighbors and friends to come along. Your love of the outdoors will help pave the path for others.