Outdoor Equity

“We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature.”–Pope Francis, Laudato Si, 139.

For many kids and families throughout the country, spring, summer and fall are spent hiking, camping, biking, wildlife viewing and fishing. Many families spend their summers on the road visiting national parks and America’s public lands, swimming in the ocean or lakes or practicing skills like fly-fishing, archery and wood carving. But too many of our youth and families miss out on these opportunities. Their life experiences do not include rafting, skiing, fishing, hiking, or wildlife watching. Often the barriers to accessing these opportunities are too numerous and too ingrained within their communities to overcome. America’s kids have to contend with a whole host of issues that prevent them from getting outside, from a lack of transportation to a lack of resources to a lack of access to outdoor-education programs. Often they don’t have anyone in their lives who cares enough to introduce them to this enchanting natural world, to take them on a hike, to show them important outdoor skills, to build their confidence or help them get the basic gear needed to have fun and be safe.

All of America’s kids and families deserve an opportunity to take advantage of the outdoor recreation and education opportunities our country has to offer. Getting kids outdoors is important not only for recreational purposes, but research has shown getting kids outdoors makes them smarter, happier and healthier. Because of this we believe that access and opportunity for all God’s children to get outdoors and experience the majesty of creation and the wonders of nature is a basic human right.

Creation of An Outdoor Equity Fund: A National Model and Advocacy Opportunity

Seeking to address these realities, state leaders in New Mexico recently signed into law a dynamic legislative idea that creates an Outdoor Equity Fund. The Outdoor Equity Fund is administered by the Youth Conservation Corps for the sole purpose of serving underserved youth up to age 18 in our urban, rural, and Native American communities. So far the fund is the only one of its kind in the nation and is designed to spur the development of New Mexico’s next generation of conservationists.

The Fund asks for an initial appropriation of $100,000 from the state, and it invites private industry, foundations, individual donors, and outdoor retailers to also pitch in. From there, microgrants will be disbursed to local governments—cities, counties, villages, and towns—as well as non-profit organizations and Native American communities to help power programs that serve at least a 40 percent low-income youth. Although small, these microgrants can have big impacts on underserved youth and can mean the difference between buying 20 tents for a camping trip or having to sleep outside. They can mean the difference between buying kids fishing poles or having them stand on the dock watching other families fish. They can be the difference between visiting a local park or national forest or staying home because there’s not enough transportation money in the family or youth organization’s budget.

Every Kid Outdoors Act

In spring 2019, U.S. Congress passed The Every Kid Outdoors Act as part of a larger public lands package. The Act provides America’s fourth graders and their families free entrance to all national parks, federally managed lands, waters, and historic sites – more than 2,000 sites in all. The Every Kid Outdoors Act is aimed at encouraging kids to get outdoors and experience America’s public spaces, while engaging in healthy activity and educational programs. Additionally, the Act encourages public/private partnerships between public land agencies, schools, and private and non-profit organizations. Since 2015, the Department of the Interior has offered fourth graders and their families free entrance to all federally managed public lands. In doing so, the program leveraged over $2 million in private donations and volunteer hours, and created hundreds of partnerships with schools, non-profits, and private sector businesses to support outdoor education programming and recreation opportunities for underserved youth. Leaders from Earth Keepers traveled to D.C. to help advocate for passage of this landmark legislation.     

Ideas like the Outdoor Equity Fund and The Every Kid Outdoors Act can help transform the youth of our nation. By getting kids outdoors, we can create communities with leaders who care about climate, air, water, environment, wildlife, and natural resources. Getting kids outdoors can also open their world to a deeper sense of calling as they encounter careers in wildlife biology, conservation, ecology as well as outdoor-recreation careers. When America takes care of its youth, it takes care of its future! Earth Keepers is strongly encouraging other states to follow New Mexico’s lead by creating more opportunities for all God’s children to get outdoors, have fun, be healthy and enjoy the beauty and wonder of creation.