Mayor Ralph Becker Launches Initiative to Connect Kids with Nature

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This is a guest post by Katie McKellar. The post originally appeared in Deseret News.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker kicks off NLC’s Connecting Children to Nature Leadership Academy on Wednesday, October 7, sharing more about SLC Kids Explore and other city initiatives from the eight city teams attending from across the country.

Mayor Ralph Becker announces a new city initiative aimed at getting kids outside more to explore nature in TreeUtah's EcoGarden behind the Day-Riverside Library in Salt Lake City.
Mayor Ralph Becker announces a new city initiative aimed at getting kids outside more to explore nature in TreeUtah’s EcoGarden behind the Day-Riverside Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Eleven-year-old Jaquelin Catrejon plucked a plum from a tree in the nature gardens of Day-Riverside Library on Thursday, grinning as she took a big bite out of the fruit.

When she finished the plum, Jaquelin joined her sixth-grade classmates from Pacific Heritage Academy in a scavenger hunt of the gardens, checking off “fruit tree” from her list. She still needed to find an aspen, a speckled rock, leaves of mint and a bee.

The activity kicked off a new Salt Lake City initiative: SLC Kids Explore. NLC President and Salt Lake City, Utah, Mayor Ralph Becker launched the program to challenge local youths and their parents to spend at least 30 minutes a day outdoors for a 30-day period.

“We must nurture a populace with a personal relationship to nature and a sense of responsibility for their and our environment,” the mayor said. “By creating this program, we are opening the door to helping Salt Lake City youth connect with nature in a direct and meaningful way.”

Becker said the program is part of a national effort spearheaded by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to promote healthy lifestyles by connecting children with nature and inspiring the next generation of outdoor stewards, who will ultimately be responsible for protecting the nation’s natural environment. Jewell visited Salt Lake City last month to announce the initiative.

Josh Lore looks at ducks during a nature walk in TreeUtah's EcoGarden behind the Day-Riverside Library in Salt Lake City
Josh Lore looks at ducks during a nature walk in TreeUtah’s EcoGarden behind the Day-Riverside Library in Salt Lake City. Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

As part of SLC Kids Explore, a directory of free nature activities is posted on a new public calendar at www.goseekdiscover.com with suggestions for different ways families can be active while having fun and exploring new areas of Salt Lake City. Those who participate can post photos of their activities on the website and earn activity pass rewards for their families.

City officials partnered with Tracy Aviary to create the list of activities.

“SLC Kids Explore addresses a national issue. Today’s kids spend less time outside than any previous generation,” said Tim Brown, Tracy Aviary executive director. “This is problematic for several reasons. Spending time outdoors has proven to improve our mental and our physical health.”

Today’s youths will be the “environmental stewards that are challenged with unprecedented environmental issues like climate change,” Brown said.

“So we need these kids to grow up with environmental values and understanding the benefits of nature,” he said.

One of Jaquelin’s classmates, Lorena Thompson, 11, said she already plays outside every day, riding her bike or playing with her dog, but she has friends who only want to play video games whenever she goes over to their houses to play.

“They say, ‘I don’t know what to do outside,'” Lorena said.

She said the SLC Kids Explore program will show kids that there are better things to do than playing video games or watching movies.

“If we’re outside, we can be more healthy and help the environment,” Lorena said. “Plus, it’s just a nice to be outside.”

About the Author: Katie McKellar is an intern at Deseret News.