"Adventure Fest" Connects Oregon Teens to Nature

Agencies and non-profits take action through Youth In Nature Partnership 

My concentration is interrupted by the sound of a bullhorn. I look up from a table full of youth chipping and jabbing away at pieces of obsidian rock. “If you signed up for the second rafting trip, come gather under the tree” shouts a City of Eugene River House staff member. Two teenage boys ask me if I can hold their carefully sculpted pieces of obsidian while they raft. I wrap the bulky, sharp glass-like proto-knives in leather and put them in my pocket, and turn around as I feel a tugging at my sleeve. An 8-year old girl holds up a sparkling piece of obsidian and asks,  “Is this sharp enough?”

This is the first annual Adventure Fest, a free community event put on by the inter-agency Youth in  Nature Partnership. On April 26th, about 150 people attended and participated in a variety of outdoor activities including river rafting, long boarding, obsidian tool making, survival shelter building, and a native plant hike. In one area of the park, toddlers and families play with rocks, leaves, and sticks at the Earth Art station. Nearby a half dozen people strum jarana guitars and participate in Son Jarocho, a song and dance from Vera Cruz, Mexico.  A handful of teenagers zoom past on longboards along the river path.

During the first year of an event, there is always that palpable tension and anticipation to see how months of planning and ideas are going to manifest in real terms. On the day of the event, I stood back with long-time members of the partnership and smiled at all the activity buzzing in the park that Saturday. “This is truly special,” I thought to myself. I remembered the story of Stone Soup from my childhood, where each villager brings one ingredient to put into the pot, turning a pot of water with one stone into a feast for the entire town.  Like stone soup, this event came to life from the collective of many small events and contributions from our community.

Yet, unlike stone soup, it didn’t happen all at once. The Youth in Nature Partners met monthly, brainstorming new ideas, creating action plans, and each taking on different responsibilities. What is truly inspiring to me, is how through collaborative efforts to plan an event, we are weaving stronger networks and building deeper relationships within our Youth In Nature community. From this partnership, we promote and volunteer at each other’s events, spark new ideas for programs, and share best practices. In an era where all I seem to hear about is declining civic participation and disintegration of communities, events like this give me hope!

Evolution of the Partnership

The Youth in Nature Partnership is collaboration of non-profit and governmental organizations with the mission to increase opportunities for youth to spend time in nature.  The partnership formed in 2008, inspired by the insights articulated by Dr. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods. Louv coined the term "Nature Deficit Disorder" to characterize the negative physical, emotional, and mental health effects that are associated with the decline in the amount of time that youth are spending in nature.  

"The partnership embraced collaboration from its start," said founding member Chris Orsinger, executive director of Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah.  "The Friends teamed up with Northwest Youth Corps, Bureau of Land Management, Willamette Resources and Education Network, US Forest Service, and Mount Pisgah Arboretum. We invited Martin LeBlanc, vice president of the Children and Nature Network, to speak at an interagency professional workshop during the day and at a public lecture on Nature Deficit Disorder in the evening." 

Two days later, on a November Saturday in 2008, the Partnership launched "Play in the Rain Day,” at the Mount Pisgah Arboretum within Lane County's Buford Park. This free, outdoor event that targets 4-10 year olds has become an annual fall event and attracts nearly 1,300 visitors. The partnership organizes the event and hosts various activities and invites organizations outside the partnership to participate. Activities have traditionally included scavenger hunts and hikes, hayrides, archery, tree climbing, pony rides, and campfire cookery. With visits from Smokey Bear and Franny the Frog, children always go home with a smile.

Adventure Fest reaches teens

After many successful years of Play in the Rain Day, the partnership wanted to add an event for teens.  Adventure Fest was born, and will become an annual spring event focusing on engaging teens in the outdoors. This year’s event was intentionally held at a centrally-located river front city park in Eugene, making it more accessible to those without cars. Adventure Fest 2015 will be held at Dorris Ranch just outside of Springfield. The partnership decided to rotate locations each year to reach more communities and celebrate and encourage use of various local outdoor locations.

One of the Partnership’s goals for the coming year is to include youth in the planning meetings and event coordination.  We hope to create a student internship position that coincides with High School senior project requirements. We will also continue to build relationships with other organizations to create a local youth in nature movement that reflects the diversity of the community, and serves all youth and families.

Ten to fifteen partner agencies collaborate in Play In The Rain Day and Adventure Fest by providing an engaging outdoor activity for youth.  "Each agency invests a small effort, but the synergy of diverse activities in one location creates a magnet for families and youth," said Orsinger.  An inherent goal of the events is to provide a "one-stop shopping" opportunity for parents or teens to connect with a range of non-profits that offer outdoor programs, as well as to inspire potential future careers in the natural resource and park management. 

"Educating about nature deficit disorder is great," says Orsinger, "but the magic happens when we provide opportunities for entire families and teens to have fun outdoors and fall in love with nature."

To connect with the Youth in Nature Partnership, go to www.youthinnature.org, and check us out on Facebook.

The Youth in Nature Partnership is a collaboration of non-profit and governmental organizations committed to increasing opportunities for youth to spend time in nature. Its members include the Bureau of Land Management, the City of Eugene, Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah, Nearby Nature, Northwest Youth Corps, Mount Pisgah Arboretum, Willamalane Park and Recreation District, the United States Forest Service, Willamette Resources & Educational Network (WREN), and Whole Earth Nature School. From nature education to service learning to just plain fun – each member organization values the wonder of nature and the ways it inspires children.

Article by Sara Worl, AmeriCorps member serving with The Willamette National Forest and Northwest Youth Corps

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