Published in the Whitefish Pilot on Wednesday, July 2, 2014
In the era of technology, time spent in the natural environment often takes a back seat to video games, television, and the computer.
The importance of children spending time in nature cannot be over emphasized. Not only does it lead to positive impacts on health and well-being, it also greatly increases the development of life-long environmental awareness.
While we work hard to protect the areas around Whitefish for future generations, it is important that we bring these generations along and teach them about the importance of wildlife habitat, clean water and healthy forests.
Our community is lucky to have many opportunities for our youth to develop a relationship with the environment. Many local schools and organizations provide hands-on, nature and science based experiences with students.
To note just a few examples, Whitefish Lake Institute teaches K-8 students about wetlands, fish, aquatic insects and aquatic wildlife and works in the field with local high school students and science teacher, Eric Sawtelle. Ravenwood Outdoor Learning Center offers summer and school programs for kids to get outside and have fun while engaging with their natural environment. The City of Whitefish has made outdoor recreation more accessible by coordinating programs that expose kids to activities such as rock climbing, paddle boarding and skiing, making getting out and recreating in nature available to children who may have otherwise not had the opportunity.
Whitefish Legacy Partners has been working with numerous partners to further increase access to nature based education and recreation for youth in our community. In addition to bringing the freshman class out on the trail to learn about forestry, trail work and fitness, the entire seventh grade recently spent the afternoon hiking on the Whitefish Trail. Leaving phones, computers, and technology behind, the students enjoyed a journey through the woods, some hiking and running over 6 miles with their friends to celebrate the onset of summer.
WLP is also working with the City this summer to provide a series of programs for the Parks and Recreation Day Camp focusing on trees, bears, bats, fire science, and loons, culminating in an all-day field trip to explore Woods Lake to experience nature journaling and forest insects.
A series of free, educational outings are also happening on the Whitefish Trail this summer. Family friendly hikes include outings focused on bear awareness, nature based art, forest discovery, birds, botany and mushrooms. Join us on our next outing on Thursday July 10 at 6:00 p.m. at Beaver Lakes Trailhead for our first Botany on Bikes ride. Participants will ride 5 to 8 miles and learn plant identification skills and fun plant facts while exploring the Whitefish Trail.
With the construction of the WT Interpretive Trails and Learning Pavilion this summer, WLP is planning to increase our educational outreach. Our goal is to develop a progressive curriculum that flows through the years of school while also offering more nature based activities for the general community at the pavilion. Thanks again to the Whitefish Rotary Club for their partnership in this project.
The cure for connecting our children and community to the environment starts in our backyards. Whether it involves a day trip to Glacier Park, joining a WT guided hike, or simply enjoying a paddle on Murray Lake, we have so many ways to balance our growing love affair with technology with the importance of protecting our treasured natural areas.