Feature Article - March 2009
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The Nature Connection

Outdoor Programming Takes Off

By Stacy St. Clair

The program has had such an immediate impact on South Dakota families that U.S. Surgeon General Steven Galson recognized the agency for its active role in promoting healthy lifestyles and combating childhood obesity. In South Dakota, 32.9 percent of students are overweight or at risk for becoming overweight, according to the state's latest school height weight survey.

Nationwide, 9 million youths—or 15 percent of the nation's children and adolescents—are considered obese. That figured has tripled since 1980, according to the U.S. Surgeon General's office. Obesity has contributed to an increase of asthma and Type 2 diabetes among children. It also increases the likelihood that those overweight children will develop heart disease, high blood pressure and some forms of cancer as adults.

In presenting the award, the surgeon general promoted the state park system and its nature programming as a natural opportunity for physical activity. Children who are out looking at birds, digging for night crawlers or hiking along trails are children who are not sitting in front of the television, drinking sugary sodas and watching mind-numbing shows.

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks has set its sights higher than just children.

The agency wants to get adults involved in nature, too. Officials have launched a "Becoming an Outdoorswoman" program—otherwise known as BOW—which teaches outdoor skills usually associated with hunting and fishing, but that are useful for many outdoor pursuits.

Each year, more than 100 participants gather at a state park for a weekend workshop on outdoor pursuits. Would-be sportswomen have four of 30 class options, with topics ranging from hunting, canoeing and fishing to geology, bird watching and orienteering.

Instructors strive to make the sessions as hands-on and user-friendly as possible to eliminate any anxiety female participants might have about enjoying traditionally male pastimes. Organizers know all too well that there are few women role models in natural pursuits and they want to make the experience as comfortable as possible.

The program has become so popular, the state agency began offering classes on "Becoming an Outdoors Family." Like the original workshop, the multi-generational seminars offer families an opportunity to learn about the outdoor world and how to enjoy it—together.

"It teaches them skills they can still use in life," Miller said. "It's the future of recreation."