Check out my new op/ed on Nature Rich Louisville!
When you think about nature – what comes to mind? A destination? A long car drive away? Mountains? Your backyard? Your childhood? What about bugs, dirt, trees, adventure, stars, skinned knees, wonder, courage, quiet? Where is your view of nature and how often do you interact with it?
Unfortunately technology, safety concerns, lack of awareness, and over programming keep too many of the kids in Louisville out of natural environments. Research documents the huge benefits of getting kids outside, into fresh air, into the quiet, into the streams, into the woods.
The feeling of freedom, connection with other living creatures, and the sense of joy and wonder can free kids, even temporarily, from the oftentimes toxic stress of their lives. We know that many kids have stressors that weigh them down and constrict their development.
I know for my own kids, it takes about 10 minutes for the complaints about boredom and being away from electronics to subside when we go outside. After that, they are building forts with tree limbs at Iroquois Park, splashing in the cold water at the Parklands, and running down the bumpy trails at Jefferson Memorial Forest.
They are taking part in challenging activities like climbing trees at Cherokee Park, jumping off boulders at the Falls of the Ohio Park, walking atop fallen tree trunks at the Louisville Nature Center or crossing streams at Bernheim Forest. These activities build confidence, calm the senses and slow us down.
Luckily, Louisville is rich in natural resources and rich in ways to connect with nature. With these resources, comes responsibility. We need to be sure there is equitable access and equitable ways to connect with the city’s beautiful natural experiences.
According to recent data released by the Louisville Metro Health Department’s Center for Health Equity, there are some zip codes in the city where life expectancy is up to 10 years less than other zip codes. This is the place to start. We can start with ensuring that barriers to getting outside are removed for the kids in these zip codes.
Also luckily, for Louisville, there are many organizations in the city whose missions are get kids out into nature. These organizations have organized themselves as the “Nature Rich Louisville Alliance” and have committed to ensuring equitable access for all kids and families in Louisville to get outside.
Join the Alliance on Facebook to find out what nature rich experiences are available to you and your kids, grandkids, students, scouts, nieces, nephews, neighbors, patients, church members, after-school program participants, kids in foster care and all kids!
Lacey McNary is a mom, social worker, Girl Scout leader and nature lover. She is also the founder/principal of McNary Group, a local social justice, research and policy consulting practice.
Thanks to the Children & Nature Network for the inspiration!