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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Creating Little Opportunities for Kids to Experience Nature can Spark Interest

Meet Your Fish and Wildlife Service
Lorrie Beck
Lorrie shows students a snake.

Until last week, Lorrie Beck was a park ranger at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas and director of the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita, Kansas. She has sadly moved on from her job, where she worked to “create opportunities for the public to learn about the natural resources of Kansas - and the Great Plains - and develop a greater appreciation for our wildlife resources.” But before she left, she shared her thoughts on urban outreach. 

5 questions for Lorrie

1. Why is urban outreach important to you?

I remember when I was a kid - about a million years ago - when climbing trees, making mud pies, riding stick horses and playing outside until dark was "the norm." Now, I'm saddened by the fear that exists with urban young folks, and their parents, with anything outside “the norm": i.e., nature and the out-of-doors. I'd hope young people of today will be as captivated and excited about being outside that I was long ago, but until they experience that joy firsthand, we're going to lose them.

Lorrie Beck
"I'd hope young people of today will be as captivated and excited about being outside that I was long ago, but until they experience that joy firsthand, we're going to lose them."

2. How can one keep a connection to nature while living in an urban area?

The beauty of living in Wichita - the largest city in Kansas - is the plethora of city parks and green spaces available. And, the state (Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism) has an OWLS program (Outdoor Wildlife Learning Site) where schools can receive grants to develop an area on their grounds that encourage kids to get outside and learn!

3. Why is a connection with the natural world so important?

Without a deep connection to the natural world, I see us becoming ignorant of important issues, such as our need for clean air, clean water, and the interconnectedness between us and our wild neighbors. A critter's habitat and our habitat are usually one and the same, and if we mess up a critter's habitat, we often find our own habitat (food, water, shelter, and space) in jeopardy.

4. What is the best way to spark interest in urban audiences?

Allowing kids the free time and the opportunity for play in a natural setting that is safe – neither scary nor frightening. Little steps: a school field trip to a nature center; family picnic in a city park, or a family outing to a nearby state wildlife management area or national wildlife refuge.

Lorrie Beck
Lorrie and friend at a local book fair.

5. What is the biggest obstacle preventing a connection to nature in cities and how do we overcome it?

Time ... hectic school schedules (teaching to tests) and hectic family life often prevent kids from getting outside. Fear ... on the part of parents, who often will not allow their child the opportunity to spend time outside exploring. Education ... letting teachers, parents and kids know about these safe opportunities and nurturing a visit so we can begin to make (or rekindle) that connection.

With 80 percent of Americans living in cities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made it a priority to forge a connection between nature and urban communities. We are doing that in many ways, including our Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships and our Urban Bird Treaties.  We consistently reach out to people who may be unfamiliar with or uncomfortable in the wild through programs to help people get the most out of our wildlife. Our efforts will pay off for them –regular time in the outdoors has been shown to benefit physical, mental and emotional health – for the community – because natural systems provide us with clean air, water, jobs and lots more – and for us – as we develop a new generation of conservationists.




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