The U.S. Forest Service today awarded a half million dollars in matching challenge cost-share funds to improve children's health and make a closer, active connection between America's youth and the outdoors.
In a noon ceremony, at the USDA Whitten Building, officials presented awards to 24 Forest Service applicants and their partners from around the country. The awards, matched dollar for dollar by agency partners, will top $1.5 million. The projects will help improve children’s health, combat obesity, and connect kids to the land in a hands-on way.
"This opportunity is important to us for a lot of reasons," said Gail Kimbell, Chief of the Forest Service. "We can help address troubling declines we see in the mental and physical health of our children. At the same time, we can inspire future conservation leaders, who can perpetuate the critical role nature and forests play in the quality of life for Americans."
Studies show a growing chasm between children and nature, which has led to drops in physical and outdoor recreation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, headquartered in Atlanta, Ga. about two-thirds of young people, grades 9-12, do not engage in recommended levels of physical activity.
More than 250 groups vied for the awards. The Forest Service sought proposals focused on underserved and urban youth; recreation and conservation education; solid, broad-based partnerships; and innovative techniques. Most of the projects, resulting from the awards, will take place on national forests, which offer a myriad of outdoor recreation and educational opportunities across the country.
Keynote speaker, author Richard Louv, whose scientific research supports the Forest Service program and led to the book — Last Child in Woods — drew attention to the distance between kids and nature. Nature, he said, is as essential to children’s’ health as nutrition and adequate sleep.
Co-hosts for the event included the American Recreation Coalition, the National Forest Foundation and ReserveAmerica.