Breckenridge: Planners huddle on outdoor strategies for kids

Access to outdoor play has huge health benefits for youth

A Colorado youngster enjoys some wide open spaces around Dillon Reservoir.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Educators and health experts agree that the rapid increase in the use of electronic media among youth creates potential health risks as kids spend less time in active outdoor play.

On average, youngsters spend an astounding 7.5 hours per day with electronics and computer games, Kaiser Permanente’s Sandra Hoyt Stenmark said Monday in Breckenridge at a national conference of recreation  resource planners.

“If they’re engaged with their media, they’re probably not outside in unstructured play,” Hoyt Stenmark said, adding that we’re potentially raising a generation that’s “disconnected from the land, doesn’t know where their food comes from … and doesn’t know why environmental preservation is important.”

Her remarks came at one of the opening sessions of the conference, where the planners and land managers will focus in part on how to re-weave an outdoor culture into the fabric of American life. Early remarks outlined some of the negative health impacts of sedentary indoor lifestyles, including an alarming increase in child obesity that leads to a host of associated health problems.

And health experts also outlined the benefits of healthy outdoor activity. Statistical studies show that having a green space within 1 kilometer reduces the occurrence of anxiety, coronary disease and migraines. Having access to outdoor recreation is a big factor in reducing childhood stress, and significantly reduces the incidence of depression in children, Hoyt Stenmark said.

Though the conference is in Breckenridge, where there’s no shortage of outdoor recreation for kids, the panelists focused on urban areas and related socio-economic and cultural factors that have an impact on access to the outdoors for kids.

In some cases, it can be as simple as providing instructions, said Kim Burgess, chief operating officer for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Burgess used the Colorado Division of Wildlife as an example, explaining that the agency’s push to get people outside gives people a detailed roadmap and checklist — all the tools they need to pursue their chosen activity.

Burgess went on to explain that Colorado’s current programs originated under former Lt. Governor Barbara O’Brien and culminated with House Bill 10-1131. The Colorado Kids Outdoors measure that passed last year, creating an environmental literacy program that helps qualify Colorado for federal grants under the No Child Left Inside Program.

Even though there was no new money available the first year, Burgess said the state was able to use money left over from some other natural resource programs that helped jumpstart a grant program.

“That allows us to really offer some financial help for nonprofits and schools that want to work harder in this area,” Burgess said. adding that the focus is on low-income families and on creating opportunities for jobs in the outdoor field.

Keystone Science School director Ellen Reid described her Summit County-based organization’s learn by doing approach to outdoor education, and Harry Bruell, president and CEO of the Southwest Conservation Corps talked about how service-oriented outdoor programs can help expose youngsters to an outdoor lifestyle, ultimately resulting in a strong stewardship ethic.

The conference continues May 24 with opening remarks by Dean Winstanley, director of Colorado State Parks, and Rick Just, president of the National Association of Resource Recreation Planners, followed by a plenary session on Colorado innovations featuring Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs as one of the speakers, along with Chris Leding, of Great Outdoors Colorado, Sue Anderson, of Volunteers for Outdoors Colorado and Steve Sherwood, regional director of recreation, heritage and outdoor recreation for the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain region.

The full conference agenda is online here.

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