I have been taking 5th graders through college kids on outdoor adventures for 13 years. I dedicate about 9 weekends a year taking these kids backpacking, car camping, sea kayaking, river rafting and much more. Many kids, all former students, have been on a dozen or more adventures. I truly believe their experiences have a lasting impact on wilderness issues, consumption habits, voting habits and much more.  The oldest kids that spent time on our adventures are now 23…so it is too early to gauge how much it has had an effect on these things. Most are busy in college, working and finding their place in society.

 

I know for me, I didn’t become a wilderness advocate until my late 20’s. I was busy with military service and a few other distractions before I started college and solidified my beliefs and stayed the course of advocating for other species and their habitats. However, I trace my wilderness ethnic to childhood experiences. Unlike my students, all my adventures were with friends, no adults to guide us, just pure unadulterated fun in pristine places; fishing, ice skating on mountain lakes, waterfall climbing, cliff jumping, catching frogs and much, much more. We did things that parents wouldn’t dream of letting their children do unsupervised today. I am not sure why, although I do agree with that current mindset of raising children. However, I did manage to have all that incredible fun, which often had the potential danger of inflicting personal harm, without ever being hurt.

 

I also had all that fun without ever being talked to about all the groups that advocate for wild places or serve as environmental watchdogs or influence public policy on behalf of endangered species. It wasn’t until my mid-20’s when I learned of groups like Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Audubon Society or the Sea Shepherds.  What better place to hone my energy, give my money and time and join with like-minded people?

 

It wasn’t until I started teaching that I heard of the Sierra Club’s Inner City Outings. I could never be more grateful for such a group which provides the means and ways of taking my students on all these adventures. The volunteers who help me are so generous with their time. They help me provide the memories of a lifetime for so many children. While this part alone is worth my time and effort and also provides me with memories of a lifetime as well, I make no attempt to hide my number one reason why I lead my students on outdoor adventures. Of course these trips help me form relationships with kids that help me do my job in the classroom better. I am sure it helps the students do the same. It helps me form better and lasting relationships with the parents and there are tons more benefits for the children. Anyone affiliated with the Children & Nature Network knows of these benefits.

 

However, my number one reason for doing what I do is to create more advocates for wild places. The true wilderness advocate who is bitten at a young age by the beauty of nature will seek candidates and vote for the ones who have nature’s best interest in mind. The true wilderness advocate will form lifelong consumption habits that will benefit nature in thousands of ways; eating low on the food chain, eating organic, joining the groups I mentioned earlier, buying enviro-friendly products, educating others and much more, but most importantly they will share this ethic and love of nature with children, just as it was shared with them.

 

I do all these adventures with very little mention of advocacy and the groups to which I belong or to the politics behind these groups. I truly feel we can create wilderness advocates just as I was influenced; by forming an early relationship with nature through fun adventures in clean and unspoiled places. Because of this, I am certain that this is the most important part of the work that the Sierra Club does. All the lobbying they do in DC and state capitals is necessary work. Suing corporate polluters and wilderness destroyers is also necessary work. However, this only treats the effect and not the cause of so many of our environmental problems.  By reaching children in ways Inner City Outings does we treat the cause and not the effect. This pays off in benefits that that exceed a dozen lobbyists’ or lawyers’ salaries. This is why we need to fund these programs better.

 

In my 13 years of volunteering for Inner City Outings we have been progressively left more and more on our own to find funding. As far as I know, the only funds we get from the Sierra Club are the paying of the personal liability insurance. Inner City Outings has about 50 chapter across the nation with 1000’s of volunteers. We have only one paid, full time position to coordinate all of those people.  I would love to know how many other paid positions they have in other sectors. With lawyers, lobbyists, directors, assistants and more, I would bet there are hundreds.

 

I know the Sierra Club gives to Children & Nature Network and many other groups that get children into the outdoors. However, I know that they are in the position to do much more. The largest and most powerful environmental group in the world needs to increase their funds to getting children outdoors. I’d bet Sierra Club spends less than 5% of its budget on getting children outdoors. If funds to Inner city Outings were increased 50 fold or 100 fold, it would still probably be less than 10% of their budget. Then we could reach 100 times more kids.

 

We need to reach more kids. We need to change the mindset of future voters and consumers. We need to do it now! We will be fighting for wilderness piece by piece forever until there is nothing left worth fighting for, until all the wilderness is gone, polluted, developed, or degraded. Inner City Outings can help us reach critical mass in creating this paradigm shift. You can help by writing letters to everyone you know. Join the Sierra Club and write letters to the Board members and the Executive Director and pressure them to make this happen. Go to http://www.sierraclub.org/

and write today.

 

Below is a letter I wrote to the new Director of Sierra Club California. Feel free to use of what I have written in your own correspondence.

 

See you on the trail,

Larry

 

 

 

 

Kathryn,

Congrats on the new position. Sorry I can’t donate…I give time and nothing is more precious. I have been a volunteer for San Jose Inner City Outings for 13 years. I also teach 5th grade so that also makes me the community liaison with the kids we take on trips. I have been taking my students on adventures about once a month as long as I have been volunteering with ICO. I invite former students on trips and many kids in HS and college have been on dozens of trips.

 

As a volunteer and teacher who enjoys having fun with students in the outdoors I was recently awarded the Natural Teacher Award from the Children and Nature Network (C&NN) for all I do to make learning fun for children.  Just in case you are not familiar, the C&NN was co-founded a few years back by Richard Louv, award winning author Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From nature Deficit Disorder. In this role I have been guiding children and showing them how to appreciate things they don’t normally get to do in city life. There is nothing I enjoy more in life than to see a kid release a monarch butterfly behind our classroom or jump from a cliff into a clear, pristine river for the first time, or to paddle among sea otters and harbor seals, or to shoot the rapids or slide down an icy hill for the first time. This is what we need more of if you really want to fight the good fight for our planet.

 

As an advocate in Sacramento you surely know how important the Sierra Club’s cause is to having advocates. That is what we do at ICO, we create advocates. As a child I never knew or heard of any enviro groups, I became an advocate for nature, organic farming (and an organic farmer), wilderness causes, preservation, and much more just by having a relationship with nature in unspoiled pristine places.  Because of this, in my eyes, this makes the work of ICO THE most important part of the Sierra Club.

 

I have been writing this kind of letter for over a decade and will continue to do so until someone listens. I have written this letter to the Carl Pope, the Sierra Club Board every year or so and the president, Allison Chin, who was my mentor when I first joined ICO…and many more people.

 

The work the Sierra Club does is great and it is necessary. However, we live in a society that treats the effect and not the cause of too many of our problems. Medical problems, obesity epidemic, drug abuse, crime in the streets, overcrowded prisons and much more look treat the effects and not the cause of these problems. As a result, the problems will never go away. The same is happening in our war against wilderness destruction, over consumption of natural resources and toxic pollution of our air, water and soil.

 

The Sierra Club does a great job in fighting these injustices in the courts and bringing them to the light of the public. However, we will be fighting for wilderness piece by piece forever and when we don’t win every battle, which will happen, we will be doing this until all the wilderness is gone, polluted, developed, or degraded. This is why we need to treat the cause and not the effect. The cause, besides overpopulation, is that we just don’t have enough people who care about these things as you and I do.

 

To fight the cause we need to reach more kids. We need to change the mindset of the next generation. We need to reach 1000’s of more kids every year. Changing one person’s lifelong voting decisions, leisure activities, and consumption habits pays off in dividends way more than what Sierra Club pays a lobbyist or lawyer for a year’s salary. We do this by taking kids out to have fun and help them form a relationship with our wild places, just like I did when I was a youth.

 

If we increase the ICO budget by 10 fold or 100 fold, just think of the numbers of kids we can reach. This is the only way can reach the critical mass needed to vote in favor of issues important to us. I am confident we are moving in that direction, but it may take us too long to get there at the rate we are going. If we reach 10 times or 100 times more kids we increase the chances by the same of one of those kids becoming a politician, lawmaker, corporate CEO and much more…the people in power who call the shots…and we all know the power of corporations…just think what this country would be like if we had a whole bunch more CEO’s who were wilderness advocates first and foremost and corporate fat cats secondary.

 

California has led the way on so many great things this nation has taken on as its own. It’s time now for CA to do the same on this. Make the next year, or even decade, as the year of ‘getting the child out in the woods’. No one is bigger than the Sierra Club or in a better position to do this. Unless we engage a paradigm shift, much faster than the current rate, I am confident that so much more wilderness will be lost forever, too many people will be poisoned by our own toxins, the dead zone at the mouth of the mighty Mississippi will be dead for a few millennia and I shudder to think how many more species will go extinct at the hands of humans.

 

We need to treat the cause and not just the effect of our environmental problems at a much faster rate. We need to get way more kids out into the woods having fun and we need to do it now.

 

Sincerely,

Larry Volpe

 

 

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