Making a Connection in America's Great Outdoors

outdoor youth group photo

Photo credit: Robert Jeffers

It's a long way from running with a gang in East Palo Alto to shaking hands with the president of the United States, but such is the power of the outdoors to transform lives. Arturo Cervantes, a former participant—and now volunteer leader—with the Sierra Club's Inner City Outings program, was invited to the White House last week to hear President Obama talk about the America's Great Outdoors initiative—a new vision for managing conservation of and recreation upon America's public lands.

For Arturo, the connection to America's wilderness heritage is personal. Now 21 years old, he turned his life around after realizing that rafting, hiking, and camping were his passions—and what he needed to stay out of trouble. Each year, the Sierra Club helps more than 10,000 at-risk kids (such as Arturo once was) discover that there is another world beyond the only one they've known for all their lives. Fostering this connection to wilderness can transform young lives and, ultimately, entire communities.
One of the exciting things about the America's Great Outdoors initiative is that it recognizes that wilderness and nature aren't things that only exist apart from our communities—they are essential to the quality of life of all Americans. Preserving and strengthening our connection to them is essential to healthy communities. That's why, before this initiative was drafted, dozens of public hearings and listening sessions were held (drawing more than 10,000 people). In addition, the American people submitted more than 105,000 written comments. In other words, a lot of input.

"I was excited when I heard about the America's Great Outdoors initiative," says Arturo. "I was thinking, 'Finally kids will learn about how to be outdoors instead of just going to school, and then going home and playing video games.'"

"We see our kids spending more and more time on the couch," said President Obama in his speech. "For a lot of folks, it's easy to go days without stepping on a single blade of grass. We have to ask ourselves, what can we do to break free from the routine and reconnect with the world around us?"

"Hearing that from him...he's really serious about it," Arturo said. "It made me want to be even more hands-on and make things happen."

America's next-generation of conservationists will come from the ranks of youth like Arturo. That's why the Sierra Club is committed to the idea that every child deserves the chance to experience the wonder of the natural world first-hand. It's the basis of our Building Bridges to the Outdoors program. It's why we help thousands of kids go fishing, hiking, and camping every year.

Of course, our connection to our country's incredible natural heritage also depends on taking strong steps to make sure we don't lose it. After all, you can't connect to something that isn't there. The other big focus of the America's Great Outdoors initiative is a coordinated, sensible, and community-based approach to conservation and restoration of our public lands and resources. Needless to say, the Sierra Club welcomes this commitment from our government to be "a better conservation partner."

It's not too late to have a voice in the future of America's Great Outdoors. If you agree that our nation's outdoor legacy must be preserved and strengthened, you can send a message to President Obama here.

Read more about conservation:
25 US National Parks Under 'Grave Threat' From Climate Change
8 of the Greatest Conservation Triumphs of the Last 50 Years
This is the Largest Model for Wildlife Conservation in the World

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