Fishing Time for Kids
by Bob Wattendorf
Editor’s Note: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is heavily involved in supporting kids in the outdoors. Bob Wattendorf has highlighted that commitment and the benefits that ensue from introducing youth to the outdoors. He begins his story in the summer, but the opportunity to introduce kids to the outdoors last all year long.
June is here, and school is out or nearly so. As they have for ages, kids are thinking about the adventures they are about to have. They still read about the fantastic adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, and share their yearning to be out in nature and heading to a favorite fishing hole. Recent series such as Hunger Games and Harry Potter also have references to fishing and the importance of nature. Unfortunately for way too many kids, their reality this summer will be staring at an electronic screen.
Richard Louv, in his renowned book “Last Child in the Woods,” describes the frightening effects caused by the lack of nature in the lives of today’s American youth, which he aptly referred to as nature-deficit. Louv points to the lack of time spent outdoors actively connecting with nature as contributing to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as rises in obesity, attention disorders and depression.
Unlike many of life’s disorders, the cure is simple and fun – get outdoors and enjoy nature. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has long been an advocate of the benefits of outdoor recreation, not only for an individual’s quality of life and time spent together with family, but also for imbuing a sense of place and the importance of conservation stewardship.
The FWC traces it roots back to 1943, when the first Florida agency to conserve fish and wildlife based on scientific principles was created. In 1946, Jack Dequine was the first professional fisheries biologist hired and he initiated a series of youth conservation camping events in Auburndale. Then in 1954 he helped to establish a permanent Ocala campsite that is now part of the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network.
Between then and now the FWC experimented with numerous fishing camps, rodeos and events intent on introducing kids from rural and urban neighborhoods and a diversity of backgrounds to recreational fishing. These efforts, including creating a network of urban fishing ponds, met with a wide measure of success and were amazingly popular. However, research in the late 1900’s began to show that all this effort really did not change the long-term behavior of participants in ways that lead to significantly more kids becoming lifetime anglers or conservation stewards.
Consequently, a new effort was initiated at Joe Budd Aquatic Education Center (now Joe Budd Youth Conservation Center) outside of Tallahassee. It involved engaging 9- to 15-year-old students in weeklong day camps. After evaluation by an outside researcher, it was determined that 71 percent of campers fished more after attending camp than they had before. Additionally, campers rated all aquatic concern statements as significantly more important than did the comparison group.
Right about the time Louv published “Last Child in the Woods,” these camp results became available. In 2006, his book lead to a National Dialogue on Children and Nature conference that drew 350 experts from around the country, representing educators, health-care experts, recreation companies, residential developers, urban planners, conservation agencies, academics and other groups.
Ken Haddad, then-FWC executive director, encouraged staff to address these concerns. As a result, FWC supported formation of the Get Outdoors Florida! coalition (http://www.getoutdoorsflorida.org/). External Website Besides FWC, Florida Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Florida’s departments of Environmental Protection (State Parks), Agriculture and Consumer Services (Forestry Divisions) and Education and Health all joined. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service joined along with numerous university, private and non-profit sector partners.
Get Outdoors Florida prompted the Governor and Cabinet to pass the Florida Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. Shortly thereafter the FYCCN (http://www.fyccn.org/) External Website and Get Outdoors Florida partners began working together to create the “Next Generation that Cares” and to “Engage communities, families and individuals in outdoor experiences to achieve healthier lifestyles and sustain Florida’s natural resources.”
To take it to the next level the FYCCN has since established a network of camps around the state. Camps typically include fishing, boating, shooting sports and wildlife discovery. Although camps vary in specific activities, conservation-centered recreation is a consistent theme. Some of these camps, like Ocala Outdoor Adventure Camp and Everglades Youth Conservation Camp, have been offering fun, affordable and educational camps for decades. Caring staff and volunteers make every effort to help the campers have a safe, enjoyable experience in the real Florida.
If you know a youth that would like to participate, check out the FYCCN.org website. There are many opportunities for a fun and fulfilling camp experience. Moreover, you’ll be helping them to establish a lifetime interest in outdoor recreation that could extend the quality of their life and help ensure the future of our fish and wildlife resources. If you have a program that can help get children outdoors and would like to publicize the program or event, join us at GetOutdoorsFlorida.org.
Make sure the young people you know have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and are not doomed to a life of idle make-believe. Sign them up for an outdoor camp today.