Active Living in Big Sky Country
You might expect that rancher-turned-Montana-Governor Brian Schweitzer is comfortable riding the range. But the former soil scientist with a penchant for bolo ties is equally confident making policy that ensures Big Sky country remains a destination for future generations to roam and play outdoors. Schweitzer, the Democratic governor of a largely red state, is part of a bold new effort launched this month to fund demonstration projects nationwide that reconnect children with nature.
“My best memories are playing outdoors with my brothers and sisters,” says Schweitzer, who was raised among six siblings on a Montana cattle ranch. “Kids are no longer growing up with a natural environment to play in and learn about.”
Schweitzer considers the shrinking amount of land available for families to recreate and overly scheduled or virtual playtime for children a “disturbing trend.” In a state with only 6.2 people per square mile, there’s a great legacy of open spaces and active living, albeit a slightly different variety than in urban areas. For Schweitzer, it means angling for fish or swimming with his kids on the shores of Georgetown Lake in summer or hiking the mountain trails outside Helena with his two border collies, Jag and Pica.
“From our national parks, state parks, and great rivers and streams Montanans have the best backyard in the world,” he says. “I am committed to preserving these natural treasures for generations to come.”
It’s this commitment that drew Schweitzer to co-chair the National Forum on Children and Nature, pioneered by The Conservation Fund and honorary chair, Richard Louv, author of Nature Deficit Disorder. The Forum aims to raise $20 million dollars for demonstration projects that reconnect kids with nature nationwide. It’s also backed by political and corporate heavyweights, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and The North Face President Steve Rendle. Forum advocates hope the projects will build momentum for reconnecting children with nature as part of a critical health issue. This fall, the Forum will release a request for proposals for demonstration projects.
“If just one young person grows up and spends their life working to preserve our natural environment, it will be worth it to me,” Schweitzer says.
Beyond his leadership in the Forum, Schweitzer has also backed a recent initiative to acquire more recreational areas. “The Square Deal” proposes $15 million for the acquisition of state parks and fishing access sites, as well as an incentive for families and children to play together outdoors through a “Families Fish for Free” program. He also champions Eat Right Montana, a coalition committed to a healthy eating and active lifestyles.
For Schweitzer, creating active living spaces—physical and cultural—is part of the heritage he wants to leave our children.
“My hope is that more children have the opportunity to connect with the natural environment,” says Schweitzer. “It is also incumbent on us as leaders to preserve places for children to enjoy.”
Read interviews with other policymakers and advocates, including Sen. Barack Obama, author Richard Louv and Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard.
Children & Nature Network: Led by author Richard Louv, the Children and Nature Network links those working to get children “back to nature,” providing resources and support for the Children and Nature Movement.
National Forum on Children and Nature: Launched in June, the Forum brings together a broad coalition of policymakers, advocates and business leaders committed to children’s health and environmental stewardship.