Young People Tell Obama What They Think at Outdoor Nation - HeadCount

Young People Tell Obama What They Think at Outdoor Nation

Two young men twisted and turned, fifty feet in the air above Central Park, skis strapped to their feet despite the shining sun and summer heat.

The tandem trampoline act, part of Outdoor Nation's Festival and Youth Summit, was more than a flashy show, it served as a remarkable reminder of human potential, the ability of us all to achieve whatever it is we set out to do.

That inspiring theme was echoed repeatedly throughout the weekend of the Summit, as hundreds of youth activists from around the country came together in New York City's famous Central Park. They came to celebrate the environment, to enter into discussion and to generate viable solutions to reconnect America's youth with the great outdoors.

The energetic, empassioned young people joined together for the first time in what Conservation Fund CEO Larry Salzer said must become "the next great American revolution."

The Outdoor Nation Youth Summit drew a truly diverse array of the nation's brightest and most passionate youth from all 50 states together over their common interest: a love for and appreciation of our natural environment. From inner city urban gardeners to outdoor educators to back-country trip leaders, participants found common ground to share their ideas and motivations.

Much more than mere discussion, the summit was organized to encourage action. It was a chance for participants to get their voices heard, and their projects funded. "This is not an idea," Salzer said, "This is not an event, this is a movement!"

From a political standpoint, the Summit was among the first stops on a nationwide listening tour spurred by President Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiative. Top-level representatives from the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Interior, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality questioned participants and listened to their responses. They wanted to know what issues were important to the youth, and what it was that drew them to the outdoors in the first place. From the youth's lips to Obama's ears, the listening session will be included in a direct report to President Obama this Fall.

The Summit focused on topics such as creating access to the outdoors in urban neighborhoods, stimulating the protection of wild places, supporting environmental education, creating more outdoor careers, and reaching out to a more diverse community of individuals interested in protecting and championing the outdoors.

If the attendance at the Summit was any indication, the revolution is well on its way. Creative youth showed their skills and voiced their ideas - from hip-hop inspired greening programs in Oakland, CA to the reclamation and regeneration of vacant lots in Albany, NY. The atmosphere was electric all weekend and it was clear that participants left the summit confident they had the power and the resources to implement their visions.

At the close of the weekend, North Face CEO Steve Rendle, who sits on the Board of the Outdoor Foundation, a major motivator behind the Summit, announced the North Face Explore Fund -- a total of $250,000 to fund grassroots, community-based projects designed to reconnect America's youth with nature.

"Our goal is to get more people outside and exploring their natural world in ways that are meaningful to them," Rendle said. Encouraging this passion for outdoor activities can spark the protection of some of our great places, can help reverse the health crisis, and will lead to a better future for us all.

It is the hope of Summit organizer Christine Fanning, and all involved, that this one small act - The Outdoor Nation Youth Summit - will manifest into a huge collective voice to save the natural wonders of our world.