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Welcome to the STIHL USA Blog

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Finding America's Future Leaders

Outdoor Summits & America’s State Parks Ambassador Program are finding the best and the brightest.
by Joe Elton, Director Virginia State Parks, President America’s State Parks Foundation

The need to recruit advocates for health-enhancing outdoor recreation and our nation’s life-enhancing state parks should be a no-brainer – but it still requires that someone takes action.

Consider that 6 million children are obese, tens of millions have high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes is on the rise and more than 8 million children have asthma.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has predicted that this may be the first generation in modern history where kids may not outlive their parents.  Inactive, sedentary lifestyles and a disconnect from nature and outdoor recreation are driving factors in all of this.

We have a national crisis.  It’s past time to do something about it and parks should be a natural ally in our fight to overcome these ills.  Recent studies show that spending as little as five minutes outdoors has a positive impact on physical and mental health. 

Too often parks are taken for granted as a “nicety” provided by the government and not a “necessity” for a healthy, active lifestyle.  I’m convinced our founding fathers were serious about the “pursuit of happiness” as an essential right of all Americans as stated in our Declaration of Independence.  I think they knew that in addition to life and liberty – it would be the ability to pursue happiness that would truly make the USA the most desirable place to live on planet Earth.

In the 20th century, Americans invested in building local, state and national parks to meet the outdoor recreation needs of our growing country.  Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson were instrumental in creating outdoor recreation infrastructure for our growing nation.  As the 20th century came to a close and the 21st century began, we saw technology in the form of television, video games, computers and social networking dominate the lives of young people.  Some studies show that kids are spending more than eight hours a day plugged into one technology or another.  Instead of riding a bike, they’re sitting on the couch staring at a screen and exercising their thumbs. 

Americans became complacent about their parks and those that loved and used them simply expected them to always be around.  And, those that aren’t introduced to the park experience – a lot of young people – donn’t know what they are missing.

The remedy, at least in my mind, is to showcase how much fun people have with friends and family  while on park outings. Hiking, biking, paddling, wildlife and bird watching, swimming, fishing and simply enjoying a cookout or campfire is therapy for the mind, body and spirit. 

By targeting high school, college and post college young adults we can reach the next generation of American leaders.  If they personally experienced the fun of recreating with family and friends in the great outdoors, they will become advocates.  As advocates, they will share their outdoor experiences with others through social networking.  By investing time promoting the park experience they demonstrate some leadership.  This is our goal in a nut shell.

As president of the America’s State Parks Foundation it has been my pleasure to work with two great American companies who are supporting the Ambassador program – Coca Cola and STIHL Inc. With their financial help and public relations support we hope to recruit 2,000 new state park Ambassadors before next spring. 

Park Ambassadors are simply park users who share their outdoor experiences – when they can - with their friends.   By posting photos, videos and blogs they help their peers understand the fun experiences they too can enjoy.  No pressure, no intense demands or requirements – simply sign up as an Ambassador and when you enjoy some time in the outdoors share your experience with your social network.  Parks are generally understaffed and frugally supported in this day and age.  So promoting all the cool things that one can do in parks is often left to word of mouth, tweet or post.  

Outdoor Summits have been developed as a way to bring together like minded 18-28 year olds – meaning people who care about the outdoors and America’s great parks – for some fun and leadership training.  It’s this generation that we call on to fight our wars and they are the generation that must preserve the American dream and our ownership stake in our public lands.  Outdoor Summits are simply a forum for these leaders to come together to work on the challenges facing our society.

If you are 16 – 28 years of age, become a State Park Ambassador today http://www.americasstateparks.org/Ambassadors and check out Outdoor Summits in Virginia and across the country at http://outdoornation.org/vsp.

If, like me, you’re not a twentysomething anymore, then pass along this information to your friends and family who are twentysomethings and do your part to make sure all the opportunities you’ve enjoyed in the great outdoors are there for Americans to enjoy 25, 50 and 100 years from now. 

Join the cause.  Follow America's State Parks on Facebook.