Action: Connect people of all ages to the outdoors through both hands-on experiential learning and new technologies that help demystify the wild.
What is it?
CFPA’s mission is to “connect people to the land,” but people connect to the outdoors in many different ways. Our goal is to reduce fear of the outdoors (much of which is fear of the unknown) both through providing opportunities for people who learn through direct sensory experiences – touch, hear, smell, and sight – and through interactivity that utilizes the phones, tablets, computers, and other devices that have become such a large part of our lives.
There are projects under development at Highlawn Forest in Middletown and the Whitney Forest in Lebanon that are meant to engage families in the outdoors through both traditional and technological approaches. At Highlawn, there is work being done to re-vitalize the accessible, interpretive discovery loop trail with family-friendly interpretive signs that engage the visitor in forestry- and natural history-based activities. Examples of the 10 stations to be established at Highlawn in Fall, 2015 are “terrific trees,” “life in the leaf litter,” “forest city,” “tree factory,” “wonder of wetlands,” “sounds around,” “I’m stumped,” “watching for wildlife,” and “poet-tree.” In addition, a free smart phone app (brand name Jeanne) has been developed that will be triggered by the different discovery trail stations to give additional content, sounds, and activities for users (expected by Spring, 2016). There will also be educational signage at Whitney Forest describing the forest management work being done there as well as our ecosystem and recreational goals for the forest. Also involved with this effort is holding forest tours for landowners, neighbors, and other forest/trail users. The training of “ramble guides” who help to spread their enthusiasm and knowledge of the outdoors to participants in guided walks held around the state is another element of this action. Additionally, programs for forest landowners like Coverts are essential to connect people to the land through hands-on experiences.
As technology continues to evolve, CFPA will look to utilize QR codes, downloadable apps, web-based interactive maps, and other tools to make it as easy as possible for people to access the outdoors and specifically the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails through any mobile device.
Why is it important?
There are numerous, well-known physical and mental health benefits from time spent outdoors. For example, a simple walk outdoors combats osteoporosis, reduces depression and anxiety, and improves your quality of life. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of evidence that people are becoming less connected to the outdoors. As guardians and promoters of Connecticut’s outdoors, we cannot just watch this happen … we must act together now! Mobile devices and other types of technology are an important part of today’s society. Rather than viewing this as a detriment to the outdoor experience, CFPA endeavors to utilize the excitement surrounding mobile technology to engage today’s society in experiencing the forest first-hand.
What will the impact be?
Connecting to the land helps people allay their fears of the outdoors, provides lessons in overcoming obstacles, builds personal confidence, helps adults understand the importance of forestry management to wildlife habitats and other ecosystem benefits, and lays the groundwork for future leaders in Connecticut who we hope will have a solid understanding of and appreciation for conservation. The keys to these benefits are awareness and excitement. If we can increase awareness while generating excitement about the outdoors, we will be well on our way to connecting people to the land.
Of course, staff, financial, and volunteer resources must be dedicated to creating content for and constructing signage, leading outdoor workshops, training ramble guides, and researching the best technologies to facilitate various goals. Another important impact is that we expect that people who utilize CFPA resources to re-connect to the outdoors will become or stay members and supporters. For example, many of the ramble guides and other volunteers are also CFPA members, informational signs and kiosks will have information about CFPA and how to join, and free apps will have direct connections to CFPA’s website, Facebook page, Twitter page, etc.
If forest landowners become active forest stewards of their own land depending upon their own interest (birds, recreation, woodworking, etc.), we win and Connecticut wins. If families get an outdoor natural play area where they can experience the fun, excitement, and love of nature that builds the foundation of their becoming environmentally aware and interested, we win and Connecticut wins. If people replace their fear of the outdoors with love and a sense of stewardship, we win and Connecticut wins. If technology-users are introduced to the outdoors in a way that works for them, we win and Connecticut wins.