The USDA Forest Service is doing its darndest to help get kids out trodding on its terrain. In early March, it announced a $1 million commitment to get kids outdoors via an agency conservation education grant that will benefit children’s projects across 18 states.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the effort to get kids connected to the natural world through $1 million in cost-share funding to enhance children’s programs in 18 states.
“These programs provide an essential connection to our great outdoors, which we hope can be a key part of growing up for children from all walks of life,” says Vilsack. “We need kids to experience the wonders of the great outdoors and take ownership of the future of natural resources. Today’s children are tomorrow’s stewards of the land.”
The effort was announced during the White House conference on Growing America’s Outdoor Heritage and Economy, which emphasizes the link between conservation and strong local economies through tourism, outdoor recreation, and healthy lands, waters and wildlife. The grants align with President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors and First Lady Michelle’s Let’s Move! Initiatives, which seek to engage the public to work together to conserve and restore our lands and to connect to the outdoors and address the problem of childhood obesity.
The funding will be distributed to the agency’s More Kids in the Woods and Children’s Forests programs. Augmented by partnership money or in-kind donations, the funding will benefit existing programs or act as seed money for new ones that help kids explore their role in natural resources. Twenty-three of the grants will go toward More Kids in the Woods projects and eight will go toward the development or expansion of Children’s Forests.
“These grants strengthen our bonds with communities with a bottom line goal of getting kids to explore and appreciate America’s great outdoors,” says US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “There are few things more gratifying for me than seeing our youth gain an appreciation for the amazing landscapes we have in this country.”
More Kids in the Woods projects include activities and programs designed to spark curiosity about nature and promote learning. This is a cost-share program where thousands of partners contribute their time, energy and resources to help connect kids and families with the natural world. Children’s Forests are centered around developed outdoor spaces on national or state forests, in urban parks or at schools, with the core mission to get young people to take a leadership role in forest management by giving them a voice in caring for the land.
More Kids in the Central Alabama Woods, National Forests in Alabama: The grant will help expand conservation education programs in central Alabama by using the Alabama Nature Center facility and staff to promote the importance of national forests to students from a three-county area. The proposed project will engage approximately 7,500 youth through meaningful hands-on experiences. $25,000
Yakutat Future Scientists, Tongass National Forest, Alaska: The purpose of this project is to create a community based environmental education program in which local students participate with biological research and restoration occurring in Yakutat City and Borough. Yakutat is a small isolated village in Southeast Alaska, where the economy and way of life are entirely dependent on the area’s natural resources. $9,500
Angoon Outdoor Skills Initiative, Tongass National Forest, Alaska: The project is aimed at engaging youth and families in outdoor nature-based activities in a remote Alaska Native community. The program will be used as a model for other outdoor programs in rural Alaska Native villages. $33,810
Yellow Belly Ponderosa Performance Outreach, Kaibab National Forest, Arizona: Reaching out to underserved kids and their families, this program provides a traveling show about forest health, stewardship and the value of science for elementary schools throughout northern Arizona. Included are lessons on fire and flooding safety. Targeted audience includes more than 4,000 elementary students from Hopi, Navajo, Yavapai Apache, Kaibab Paiute, Havasupai and/or Hualapai tribes adjacent to the Kaibab and Coconino National Forests. $17,994
Big Bear Discovery Center’s Nature Explore Classroom, San Bernardino National Forest, California: The project will engage underserved youth ages 6 to 12 of non-traditional and diverse backgrounds in the development of a Nature Explore Classroom at the Big Bear Discovery Center. Workshops will be designed through a partnership with the San Bernardino National Forest Association. Once implemented, the classroom will provide formal environmental education programs for 2,000 students and reach up to 250,000 visitors annually. $25,000
A Century of Leaders: Invoking the Vision of Teddy Roosevelt, Sequoia National Forest, California: The overarching purpose of this program is to help children in kindergarten to eighth grade develop a sense of place and connect with nature. The target population is the students at a new public school in Lindsay, located in one of the state’s poorest areas, named after Theodore Roosevelt. In spite of the proximity to the national forest, surveys indicate that 95 percent of children here have no experience in the forest. $48,000
Stormwater Habitat Education Development, or WaterSHED, Rocky Mountain Research Station and Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest, Colorado: WaterSHED promotes stewardship of the Poudre River watershed by teaching kids how land use affects water quality. The program includes teacher training and direct student interaction. Teachers are trained in wetland studies, water chemistry, and stream ecology. $8,420
Boise Youth Engagement in Nature, Boise National Forest, Idaho: The program will engage thousands of underserved youth in experiences on the forest that focus on restoring the watershed habitat. Vital fisheries habitat degraded by historic mining will be restored while students gain first-hand experience of restoration programs. $32,400
Mountains to Meadows: The Boulder Creek Study, Payette National Forest, Idaho: The study builds upon existing partnerships and activities to strengthen environmental literacy and watershed stewardship among underserved students in rural Valley County, Idaho. Trout Unlimited will manage the project and the majority of funds will be used for educational supplies. Students will investigate stream health and restoration while improving their science, math and technology skills as they work alongside Forest Service, Fish and Game and Idaho Department of Environmental Quality professionals. $14,425
Our LAND – Learn, Admire, Nurture, Dream, Forest Service Regional Office and the Huron-Manistee and Hiawatha National Forests, Michigan: The project will reach 250 underserved fifth and sixth grade students at 10 schools in Detroit. Activities combine yearlong, multi-session classroom lessons, stewardship activities, and field experiences at Rouge Park, Detroit’s largest park. The goal of Our LAND is to help develop connections between Detroit youth and natural areas. $50,000
Pioneering Discoveries: A Natural and Cultural Resources Field Camp for Tribal High School Students, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Montana: The curriculum places equal emphasis on outdoor experience, natural resources, and expanding cultural heritage awareness. The curriculum will be incorporated into high school science classes with lesson plans involving both in-field data collection and classroom laboratory analysis. Lesson plans will also highlight career opportunities in resource management and a cultural heritage element that will assist schools in meeting Montana’s Indian Education for All Act. $10,000
Discovering Flathead’s Feathered Friends, Enhancing Schoolyard and National Forest Habitat, Flathead National Forest, Montana: This year’s funding will support expansion of a school-based native bird garden and the development of native plant gardens at three additional low-income elementary/middle schools, including curriculum-based lessons and materials, and class field trips to the forest to participate in wildlife surveys, planting, wildlife observations, signing and education. $16,000
Kids in the Headwaters, Lolo National Forest, Montana: The project, through a partnership with the Watershed Education Network, will expand current stream monitoring protocols by establishing gauging stations at three of the sites on the forest. Data from these stations will educate students about stream flow and other measures of water quality. The seasonal stream monitoring will give students the opportunity to collect field data that will ultimately yield data sets that can be incorporated into the classroom science curriculum. $13,500
Get Outdoors With Conservation, Climate & Careers!, Nebraska National Forests and Grasslands, Nebraska: By creating the Outdoor Learning Center and weather station at Chadron State College, this project dramatically increases opportunities and capacity to get students outdoors and involved in science and environmental activities. The Learning Center includes full eco-scape, wildlife areas, on-line climate tools, a rain garden and a prescribed burn area. $49,500
Children’s Water Festival Enhancement Project, Gila National Forest, New Mexico: The Gila Conservation Education Center partners with the Gila National Forest to provide science education programs on the forest. Since 2004, they have hosted a Children’s Water Festival for local fourth and fifth graders. However, due to expense of the project, only students from one urban school district can be served. The project will now reach 820 underserved youth, adding three participating school systems and four new collaborating partners. $15,626
Connecting Kids to the River Forest, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico: Focusing on the forest and uplands at Buckman, a historic railway town on lands managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, this project involves forest restoration and a direct water diversion from the Rio Grande River. Activities include monitoring vegetation, erosion control and water quality testing. Teacher training in water quality, forest ecology, and ecological monitoring will be included. $12,350
Stewardship in the Woods on 3 Forests, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Oregon: This is a comprehensive outdoor education program that challenges students to think critically about conservation and sustainability. Students in the Woods will bring 600 underserved kids to their local national forest four times throughout the year to observe wildlife, work with biologists, and enjoy recreation activities. Educator Workshops will train 50 educators to independently use national forests as outdoor classrooms to meet state and national education standards and reach MKIW goals. $47,400
Immersion in Nature, Willamette National Forest, Oregon: This program consolidates seven in-depth nature education experiences reaching urban, rural, underserved, and minority youth. The immersion will include several programs that include camping and learning about nature, participation in restoration work, outdoor education and in-classroom natural resource education. $40,800
Partners in Education, Northern Research Station, Pennsylvania: Opportunities to experience hands-on, in-the-field research and explore forest and woodland resources are out of reach for most underserved student populations in the urbanized Philadelphia area. The Forest Service and Morris Arboretum will pilot a new school partnership model for urban forestry field experience and resource-based learning for Title 1 schools in the Philadelphia region. $40,000
Sewee Earth Stewards, Francis Marion National Forest, South Carolina: In its 11th year, the multi-week integrated curriculum on freshwater wetlands and salt marsh includes standards-based fifth-grade lessons for the classroom, visits by educators to classes with animals, and field studies at the Sewee Center and on the forest. Since 2000, more than 5,000 students have participated in the interactive, hands-on activities, reinforcing their science standards while learning about the native habitats of the Coastal Plain of South Carolina. $8,000
More Kids in the Pineywoods, Angelina-Sabine National Forest, Texas: This in-depth conservation education program will provide science field trips for 3,200 kindergarten to fifth-grade public school children, weekly outdoor experiences for at-risk youth, monthly field trips and outdoor activities for underserved families, and four week-long day camps for children. $41,677
The EVOLVE Project, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah: The purpose of EVOLVE is to develop an outdoor-based career-oriented youth leadership course for ethnic American teens. The project’s goals are to increase participation in outdoor recreation among ethnic American teens, foster awareness among ethnic-American families and provide access to outdoor-oriented career opportunities. The grant will provide three semester-long outdoor leadership courses for 45 teens. Participants also will engage in job-coaching, leadership training, and environmental stewardship classes. An essential element of the EVOLVE Project is job skills training and internship placement. $17,804
National Fishing in Schools Program, Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming: The Shoshone National Forest will partner with Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Trout Unlimited, and Fremont and Park County school districts for the pilot year of the National Fishing in Schools Program. The program educates students about fish, insects, aquatic environment, resource stewardship and conservation using fishing as the instructional tool. $6,800
2012 CHILDREN’S FOREST GRANTS awardees:
Integrated Assessment of Chugach Children’s Forest Programs, Chugach National Forest, Alaska: The Chugach Children’s Forest enters into its fourth year of innovative programming engaging youth and families in the outdoor environment of South Central Alaska. Programs have been integrated into a network of “stepping-stone” opportunities, with an aim toward developing a lifelong stewardship ethic for America’s public lands. This joint proposal includes the Chugach and three of Alaska’s leading educational institutions: Alaska Pacific University, University of Alaska, Anchorage and Alaska Geographic. $43,000
Pope-Baldwin Children’s Forest, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Pope-Baldwin Recreation Area, California: The children’s forest will include the Tallac Historic Site and Taylor Creek Visitor Complex in South Lake Tahoe and engage students in educational programs, service learning projects, and outdoor experiences that connect local youth to the natural world. Emphasis areas include the expansion of the Washoe Tending and Gathering Garden and education of local students on ecosystem health and land management conservation programs. $40,815
Atlanta Children’s Forest Network, Forest Service Southern Region Office, Georgia: Offering greater opportunities to get families active in nature, the network will put emphasis on underserved communities and introduce them to publicly-owned forested areas in their neighborhoods. Creating the network will allow partners to expand existing urban forestry education and stewardship programs at underutilized parks and nature preserves and also introduce information about national forests within a two hour drive of Atlanta. $80,000
Children’s Forest Community Partnership, Payette National Forest, Idaho: The partnership includes Trout Unlimited and other organizations, promotes existing and new youth projects in the vicinity of McCall, Idaho. Forest and partner programs such as stream investigations, service learning projects, riparian restoration, conservation field days, trout in the classroom and native plant propagation will be unified under the Children’s Forest program. $48,800
The Children’s Bosque, Albuquerque, N.M.: The Forest Service’s Southwest Regional Office, National Hispanic Culture Center and Coronado Elementary School will designate 20 acres of forest along the Rio Grande for the Children’s Bosque. The Bosque (Spanish for forest), includes the riparian cottonwood forest along the river and will serve as an outdoor destination for children and families. The goal of the Children’s Bosque is to reconnect underserved, urban youth and families to healthy, outdoor activities within walking distance from their home or school in a way that is culturally relevant and meaningful. $51,500
Upper Columbia Children’s Forest, Colville National Forest, Washington: The Upper Columbia Children’s Forest will reach beyond forest boundaries to serve the communities of Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties in Washington. The Children’s Forest and matching funds will provide seed money for a Stevens County Conservation District Conservation Educator, who will help identify and develop cohesive conservation themes over the years that are consistent with school curricula and state standards. $45,500
Children’s Forest Environmental Literacy Model, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, Colorado: This unique project builds upon the 19-year partnership between the Forest Service and the Yampatika School District and joins with the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education to develop a literacy model that is expected to be replicated across Colorado’s rural communities. The program is innovative in that existing field and in-class programs are integrated into the school curriculum, institutionalizing these opportunities throughout three school districts. The money awarded the program will expand its reach from three to five school districts and from 750 to nearly 1,000 students. $47,000
Children’s Forest in the City, Forest Service Eastern Region, Milwaukee, Wis.
The Milwaukee Rotary Centennial arboretum will be created in the heart of Milwaukee. The 40-acre space includes a two-mile trail loop with wheelchair access to the Milwaukee River. Children’s kiosks, nature play areas, and sensory gardens will give young people a rare opportunity to connect with nature in an urban setting. More than 100,000 people live within a two-mile radius of the planned arboretum. $50,000