Spending time outdoors with the family shouldn’t be a chore

By Rebecca Chavez-Houck

As my husband, Martin, and I travel the state in our RV, we’re happy to see families exploring the outdoors. Like them, we took advantage of junior ranger programs with our children as we visited national parks. But for many parents, a lack of vacation time or other commitments keep families close to home. It can be difficult for the family to travel to take in nature’s benefits. But that shouldn’t stop them from finding outdoors activities they can enjoy as a family.

“If getting our kids out into nature is a search for perfection, or is one more chore, then the belief in perfection and the chore defeats the joy,” author Richard Louv writes in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. “It’s a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it’s even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it’s a lot more fun.”

A couple years ago, Rose Smith, program manager for the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation (OOR), saw an opportunity to engage more Utah families in exploring the outdoors. At the time, she was serving as an intern for the office, completing her master’s degree at the University of Utah in Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Smith wanted to apply her practical experience of working in youth development and establish something that families throughout the state could use as a starting point for enjoying nature.

She discovered numerous U.S. communities and states had adopted a Children’s Bill of Rights and decided to pursue state adoption of a similar initiative.

Fast forward to the 2019 Utah legislative general session, and Smith and the team from OOR, in concert with community stakeholders like Youthworks (a former recipient of the OOR youth grants program), National Parks Conservation Association and the Utah Society for Environmental Education, were on the Hill encouraging legislators to support HCR4: Utah’s Every Kid Outdoors (EKO) Initiative. The resolution was sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, and Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan.

Not only did the Legislature enthusiastically support the resolution, it provided the Utah Children’s Outdoor Recreation and Education (UCORE) grant program with a much-needed one-time state appropriation of $100,000.

Tony Grove Lake Logan Canyon,
Kids can download and fill out an Explorer Passport

On the heels of that legislative success, Smith put together an EKO passport program for Utahns to use with their families. The first 100 children who submit completed passports to OOR will receive a certificate signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, along with a collapsible lantern, donated by Utah-based Goal Zero (GoalZero.com). The passport is available in English and Spanish.

“We wanted to make it unique to Utah, but also to make the activities as general as possible. We ran ideas for the required activities past the stakeholder group and had them rank the activities. We wanted to make sure that the activities were as inclusive and accessible as possible. They are Utah-centric and include stewardship,” Smith explains.

In order to meet its purpose of inspiring children to complete the activities, Smith notes that the passport can be easily completed in a child’s backyard or community park. “Even if it happens in a day…if it sparks interest in nature, wherever that might be, that’s what we want to see,” Smith says, adding that participants seem to be really “having a blast with the family” as they complete the activities.

Martin and I have now joined the demographic of retired folks on the open road, but we reflect fondly on the time we spent as young parents tent camping with our kids. There’s nothing better than cuddling up with a little one in front of a campfire, seeing his or her face light up with wonder at seeing a new critter or watching them scale a goblin-shaped rock formation.

If you’re interested in checking out EKO for a child in your life, visit the EKO information webpage to find out more at Business.Utah.gov/outdoor/eko

See you at the campground!

Utah’s Every Kid Outdoors Initiative:

Every kid should have the opportunity to:
• Observe nature and wildlife in Utah
• Explore Utah’s parks, public lands, and wild places
• Experience the Greatest Snow on Earth
• Gaze at the starry sky
• Bring along a friend to nearby nature
• Splash in Utah’s rivers, lakes and streams
• Follow a trail
• Plant a seed
• Play on Utah’s rocks and mountains
• Be a steward and take care of Utah’s outdoor places
—More at Business.Utah.gov/outdoor/eko