While kicking off a roundtable discussion about strategies to connect Missouri children with nature, Gov. Jay Nixon today announced that attendance at Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites increased by 6 percent in 2009.
This increase, from 14.9 million visitors in 2008 to 15.9 million in 2009, bucks a 10-year decline in parks attendance and moves the state toward the Governor's goal of attracting 20 million visitors a year.
Joined by First Lady Georganne Nixon, the Governor made this announcement during his opening remarks at a roundtable discussion at the Runge Conservation Nature Center to kickoff the statewide Children in Nature Challenge. Created by Governor's Executive Order last month (EO 10-18), the "Children in Nature Challenge" directs state agencies to encourage Missouri communities to give children more opportunities to learn about and experience nature first-hand in all parts of the state.
"Generations of Missourians have grown up camping, hiking, bicycling, hunting, fishing and bird-watching," Gov. Nixon said. "I did that with my father and with my sons. Every child needs to experience and learn about nature. Our efforts to connect kids with the outdoors, including promoting State Parks and the Children in Nature Challenge, will make sure that resources and opportunities are available for kids to explore Missouri's many beautiful state parks, trails and streams, whether they live in the city, the country or the suburbs."
Mrs. Nixon, who chaired the roundtable, will help lead the efforts in the Children in Nature Challenge.
"Connecting with nature improves children's physical, mental and emotional well-being. Besides that, it's fun," Mrs. Nixon said. "I'm looking forward to helping all Missouri kids get back to the great outdoors, at our beautiful state parks and other destinations."
Friday's discussion centered on outdoor initiatives that state departments have used in the past to help children engage with nature; ways to leverage existing state programs and opportunities; and new, fresh ideas to get Missouri youth outdoors.
Mrs. Nixon urged Missourians to submit their suggestions for programs, events and opportunities to get kids learning, playing and exploring outdoors by visiting the state Web site, MO.gov, and clicking on "Children in Nature."
Among the participants at Friday's kickoff meeting were Bob Ziehmer, director of the Missouri Department of Conservation; Dave Murphy, executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri; Bill Bryan, director of the Division of State Parks; Margaret Donnelly, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services; as well as top officials from the state departments of Mental Health, Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education, and the Division of Workforce Development.
Executive Order 10-18 directs the Missouri Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education, Health and Senior Services, Mental Health, Higher Education, and Economic Development to work with two lead agencies, the Departments of Conservation and Natural Resources, to implement the Challenge by:
- Reaching out to Missouri communities to encourage their use of existing state programs that help educate children about, and connect them with, nature and the outdoors;
- Encouraging those communities to build local programs that expand upon existing state programs;
- Serving as an informational resource for Missouri communities undertaking the Challenge;
- Championing the use of the Discover Nature Schools program and other indoor and outdoor instructional components for K-12 curriculum that strengthen children's connection to nature and enhance their education about the environment; and
- Promoting the Challenge and developing a process to recognize Missouri communities for their efforts and successes in meeting it.
Last month, the Governor launched the State Parks Youth Corps as a way to provide summer employment for approximately 1,000 Missourians ages 17 to 24 and to enhance Missouri's 85 state parks and historic sites. In addition to those benefits, the program also will help increase outdoor experiences for Missourians this age group, Gov. Nixon said. Missourians interested in summer employment with the State Parks Youth Corps can apply online at MO.gov.
The chart below shows the change in attendance at Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites.
Attendance at Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites increased by 6 percent in 2009. This increase, from 14.9 million visitors in 2008 to 15.9 million in 2009, bucks a 10-year decline in parks attendance and moves the state toward the Governor’s goal of attracting 20 million visitors a year.
Visit the Children in Nature Challenge website for more information