November in West Virginia: Inspiring the Next Generation.

Nature Near Everyone: A Shared Priority! That snappy slogan, and the projects it describes, came about from a creative conference I was privileged to attend this November So, let me share with you what happens when 150 people meet with the goal of inspiring a new generation to engage with nature.

Meg Beckel on the bow of a ship in the Arctic.

Meg Beckel, shown during an Arctic expedition in Labrador with Students on Ice, is part of an international team developing ideas to connect youth with nature. Image: Lee Narraway © Students on Ice.

The idea for the conference, held in West Virginia, emerged from the 2012 World Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There, CEO’s of the world’s parks met to discuss the critical need to inspire a new generation to visit parks and connect with nature. This theme continued at the World Parks Congress in 2014, where there was a commitment to include a program stream about it at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii.

The gathering in West Virginia was the North American summit, designed to prepare ideas for the 2016 congress. Over two days, facilitated group discussions and inspiring speakers resulted in 15 collaborative initiatives to take to Hawaii for further engagement with the global community.

People cross a bridge in front of a large building.

View of the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia, site of the North American Summit for the conference attended by Meg Beckel. Image: © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Let me share one initiative that our team crafted. It is inspired by a group vision that “nature be accessible everywhere to everyone”. We determined that a step toward that vision would be to help people find nature that is near to where they live. A young member of our group suggested we simply promote the use of a digital tool that already exists and is free. It’s found at the website called “walkscore.com”.

View of the main web page of walkscore.com

Screen capture of the walkscore.com site. Image: walkscore.com © walkscore.com.

We all used it to find nature areas near our own homes (I of course checked out my neighbourhood in Ottawa!). The application works in Canada, the United States and Mexico. It also lists parks and outdoor places. What a tool!

So, from this group brainstorm, an initiative to encourage individuals and organizations to promote walkscore.com was born! We called it “Nature : Just a Click and Steps Away”. We then merged our initiative with three others that looked at community ownership of natural spaces, at community-designed nature spaces and at multi-levels of government prioritizing natural spaces.

Two girls looking closely at a butterfly.

Getting youth engaged with nature was the goal of the summit, Inspiring the Next Generation. Image: istock © kirin_photo

What evolved was an overarching initiative titled: “Nature Near Everyone: A Shared Priority”. The subtext: Make it, Own it, Find it, Share it.

Of course, there were other groups that brainstormed other equally engaging projects. One proposed an international summit with youth and for youth. (There were numerous millennials at our summit but only one was under 18). Another proposal was to launch a global Nature Corps of young people interning in nature as part of their high school experience.

Logo of the IUCN Hawaii World Conservation Congress. © IUCN

© IUCN

As you can tell, there were many ideas to make nature relevant again to young people. Some of these ideas can be acted on now and others will take time, talent and resources to advance. I look forward to seeing what comes forward at the IUCN Hawaii congress and beyond.

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