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Secretary Vilsack Announces Local Projects to Help Kids Get Outdoors

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday the infusion of $1 million from the current U.S. Forest Service budget toward projects and programs that get kids outside to experience the great outdoors, connect with nature and help nurture future land stewards.

The two programs receiving funding through this announcement will reach tens of thousands of young people this year, and support the goals of both President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative.

The Forest Service targeted the funding toward 21 More Kids in the Woods projects and nine new Children’s Forests in 18 states and Puerto Rico. The investment will be leveraged about 2.5-to-1 by partner funds and in-kind donations that will help tens of thousands of young people participate in a variety of outdoor recreational and educational activities.

On April 16, 2010, President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, in an effort to develop a sound agenda for 21st century conservation and for reconnecting Americans with our nation’s lands and waters. “We want all children to have every possible opportunity to experience the great outdoors and gain first-hand knowledge about our magnificent natural resources, which are important to this country’s wealth and health,” Vilsack said. “Now more than any other time in history, our children are losing their connection to nature. Our hope is to reverse that trend while instilling a curiosity about nature and a life-long commitment to conservation and stewardship.”

The projects and programs were chosen from 174 submissions Forest Service units. Projects not selected in this funding cycle may still proceed with local funding and partnerships.

More Kids in the Woods, now in its fifth year, are projects designed to engage children in recreational activities and nature-based learning to establish meaningful and lasting connections to nature. Goals are to improve children’s health and make a closer, active connection between America’s youth and the outdoors.

Children’s Forests are more large scale, relying on long-term commitment from partners. They are focused connecting kids, families and adults to healthy outdoor activities and to the forest; supporting economically vital communities by creating new education and career pathways; pairing kids with education and mentorship programs; fostering climate change understanding and solutions, and expanding citizen stewardship of the nation’s public lands.

They reach under served populations and provide innovative ways for inclusive access for everyone, from rural regions and communities to inner cities and urban centers.

The San Bernardino Children’s Forest, a partner program with the National Forest Association, began in 1970 and is the agency’s first Children’s Forest.

“The value of these programs and partnerships for youth must not be underestimated,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Young people are tomorrow’s stewards of our public lands, and we must invest in building lasting and meaningful connections between our youth and America’s great outdoors.”