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Outdoors disconnect is an alarming trend

Heading north to New England in October, I realize I’m watching for the first sightings of bright fall foliage. Instead from Pennsylvania to Maine as the foliage changes, it seems to do it only in shades of green. The leaves go from bright to dark and I think of a phrase to describe it: The Dulling of the Green.

But that’s too dismal a phrase to describe a drive to grouse camp. No power, no indoor plumbing, no cell service and no human companions (bailed when they learned about the outhouse), just me and five dogs. I can’t wait. I’m thinking positive and keeping a lookout for those splashes of color that could be just around the next bend.

“Disconnect” is the word people use to describe getting away like this. The sound of the wind through the pines is a language I used to understand, a reminder of the peaceful quiet manner of living I left behind when I moved from Maine back to Pennsylvania. This doesn’t feel like disconnecting. It feels like reconnecting.

Sadly, according to an extensive new study, humans are disconnecting from nature. The findings are detailed in The Nature of Americans National Report: Disconnection and Recommendations for Reconnection. Study subjects included 12,000 adults, 8 to 12-year-old children, and parents.

What’s competing with nature? The study uncovered some alarming trends, especially with the youngsters. Parents reported that their 8 to 12-year-old children spent about 3 times as many hours with computers and TVs each week that they did playing outside. Half of the adults reported that they spent 5 hours or less in nature each week, and more disturbingly, were satisfied with that amount of time (The 5 hours or less was the lowest selection; I’d hazard a guess that the actual time could be an hour or less).Yet, many of the adults and parents said it was sad that children are growing up with limited opportunities to experience nature.

Asked to value contact with nature, more than 75 percent of the adults rated that as extremely important. They said they were attracted to its beauty, appreciated its resources and valued its role in intellectual and spiritual development. They added that they felt “programs for Americans to enjoy nature” are underfunded.

The children surveyed seemed to be chomping at the bit to experience nature. Seven out of 10 said they would rather explore woods and trees than play of neat-looking grass. Eight out of 10 said they would like activities such as camping and climbing trees.

Finally, the Nature of Americans National Report summed up the crux of the problem: the gap between interest and action. According to the survey, the majority of adults see exploring nature as very important, and the majority of children want to experience the outdoors, but they are not doing anything about it.

Obviously, the children can’t drive. We are all within an easy drive of beautiful state parks, Beltzville, Hickory Run, Nescopeck, Tuscarora and Locust Lake. The Appalachian Trail threads through our area. Schuylkill County’s park, Sweet Arrow Lake, Pine Grove, is a gem and worth a short drive to explore.

As we make plans for the New Year, let’s make plans to take the family on an outside adventure, even if it’s a simple as a picnic at a state park or a short hike.

*The Nature of Americans is led by DJ Case & Associates. It builds on the late Dr. Stephen R. Kellert’s research on the importance of contact with nature to human well-being. This unique public–private collaborative is sponsored by the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Disney Conservation Fund, Morrison Family Foundation, Wildlife Management Institute, and Yale University.

Hunter Rogers was just a little guy when his dad started taking him along during summer hunting preparations. Hunter helped dig a hole in the woods to establish a mineral site for deer. Now a young man, he still enjoys heading to the woods with his dad, Bo Rogers, Minersville. Appreciation for the outdoors needs to be instilled in youth early, studies show. LISA PRICE/TIMES NEWS