Don’t be surprised is you see more youth on New England waterways this fall. This summer an innovative program launched in the small towns of northern New York and New England, getting 150 youth, ages 10–14, out on the region’s rivers as part of a program tailored specifically to providing rural youth experiences in nature.
“Northern Forest Explorers” is a program of Vermont’s Northern Forest Canoe Trail, with a focus on the 740-mile -ong Northern Forest Canoe Trail, which stretches from Old Forge, N.Y., to Fort Kent, Maine. The organization has 12 trips on the trail’s rivers for youth from rural northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The five-day-long trips teach basic outdoor skills, provide instruction in basic science, and expose children to opportunities for leadership development.
“Many people assume that because rural youth live amongst the great forests and rivers of the region that they have experiences in these settings, but these young people are often just as likely not have real outdoor opportunities as children growing up in our big cities,” says Youth Program Director Roger Poor. “This program serves this population and provides an outdoor experience that we believe will help make these children lifelong learners, leaders and advocates for being outside.”
The lack of youth exercise and experiences in nature is the premise of Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods and is a central part of the Obama Administration’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, which seeks to increase public participation and access to exercise and the natural world. The Northern Forest Explorers program works with local outfitters and guides to design trips for rural youth that teaches paddling and other outdoor skills and connects kids to the rivers and forests that make up their backyards.
Lori Sampietro of Montgomery Adventures in Montgomery Center, Vt., sees this program filling a great need. “This program is critical because it recognizes that for many of these kids their connection to the outdoors is through the car window,” she says. “Northern Forest Explorers gives these kids a chance to learn firsthand what it means to be on the water and in the woods, and in doing so is helping to instill pride, confidence and a land ethic in these young people which helps make our communities stronger.”
The Northern Forest Explorers program is supported with a two-year grant from the Department of Justice and is in its first year. The program is expected to grow 25% next year. With a waiting list for participating this summer, the program has a bright future meeting the needs of rural youth in the region.
The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is a 740-mile inland paddling trail tracing historic travel routes across New York, Vermont, Québec, New Hampshire, and Maine. Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Inc. is internationally regarded as the preeminent water trail organization in North America, and connects people to the Trail’s natural environment, human heritage, and contemporary communities by stewarding, promoting, and providing access to canoe and kayak experiences along this route.
Info: http://www.northernforestcanoetrail.org, 802-496-2285.