This past Sunday I took a walk on a trail at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Springfield Nature Center. I was struck by a couple of things that beautiful autumn morning. The density of new, large houses next to the Center seems to suggest people are willing to spend more to be closer to nature. The second observation was the type of visitors I saw on the Center grounds. Middle-aged whites wearing exercise pants and jackets of bright pink, white or green were smiling, talking and walking. These folks appeared to me to be more interested in fitness in nature than in nature itself. No cameras or binoculars around their necks. But they chose to walk in nature not their neighborhood, fitness club or the mall.
As I saw on Sunday morning, Americans are enjoying nature not as a place to hunt or fish but to be outdoors and be active. Richard Louv wrote recently on the declining revenue for conservation and the potential to reverse the trend by broadening conservation’s support base – by connecting everyone with nature. “A strong conservation movement is essential to connecting people to nature. Likewise, the preservation of nature depends, in turn, on the success of the children and nature movement. As we grow this movement, the funding pie — for the conservation of all species, including humans, will grow.”
Some research suggests an increasing number of Americans are walking outdoors. As America becomes more urban and its citizens increasingly overweight, shouldn’t we work hard to introduce our non-hunting friends, family and neighbors to the idea of fitness in nature? When adults find a connection and need for nature isn’t it possible they’ll connect children to nature too? We could broaden support for our work by seeking alliances with the fitness and healthcare profession. Leadership in conservation includes building a constituency for our work – informing and inspiring – so they see value in the work we do on their behalf. What alliances do you believe we should be building?