A natural path to protect what we love

Dan Chu is director of the Our Wild America campaign, which connects people with opportunities to protect the special places they love and to join a growing national movement to create a robust national network of connected wild lands across America.

Everyone has a deep connection to a special place in nature. It may be a public park or trail, a stream, a bit of green in their backyard, or a wilderness area high up in the mountains. We recently got to see the Brune family establish some new special places in their lives as they wrapped a big trip to some beautiful National Parks and prospective National Monuments out west.

One special place that is a regular part of my family's life is a section of the Appalachian Trail, about two miles from our house in Northern Virginia. The Appalachian Trail is a public trail that stretches more than 2000 miles, from Georgia to Maine, providing an essential link for wildlife to roam, and people to discover, the Appalachian mountain range.

Sometimes it is a real battle to get our kids to go for a hike on that trail near our house. The first portion of itis steep as it climbs onto the spine of the Blue Ridge mountains. Often, the kids fight and whine, puffing up the side of the ridge, yet by the time we reach the top, the kids shift into discover mode, pointing out frogs and birds, acorns, rocks and picking up the occasional discarded wrapper or plastic bottle.
The smells, sounds, and pace of the trail near our house always reconnect the family, at a time when electronic distractions and over-scheduled lives threaten to pull us apart. We're reminded again how important it is to get kids outside and away from the TV, smartphones and iPads . But as we hike, tensions and whining are replaced by sharing discoveries of the day. Our bodies and souls rejuvenate.

Such family time in nature has inspired our teenage daughter to start an environmental club with her friends, the 5 Rs, (Recycle, Reuse, Restore, Repair, Repeat) to protect the planet that she loves.

The Sierra Club's founder, John Muir, knew that it is human nature to protect what we love. He showed everyone that getting people into nature can spur a lifelong commitment to protect nature. The greatest example of this is when Muir spent four days camping with President Teddy Roosevelt in 1903, resulting in Roosevelt expanding Yosemite National Park and eventually designating millions of acres of wild lands as new national parks and national monuments.

Check out this wonderful tribute Roosevelt wrote about Muir in 1915.

Since its founding in 1892, the Sierra Club has connected millions of Americans with the great outdoors, sparking citizens all across the nation to protect the wild lands that they love. Today, led by dedicated volunteers, Sierra Club Outings get hundreds of thousands of diverse Americans into the outdoors every year.

Tags: Conservation

Best of TreeHugger