Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Build it and they will come—Rethinking the Role of Urban Wetlands

Last spring I listened to the EPA Watershed Academy webcast about reconnecting kids with nature and learned about how children nowadays are separated from outdoor play.   At the same time I made the commitment to get the extra training required to lead minors on hikes and other activities with a local outdoor club.  Saturday was the first outing.  And I wondered—have kids changed?  Would they enjoy a hike in the woods—or would it be boring?

The problem of children growing up separated from nature is not new.  My father taught about the outdoors and worked in schools in East St. Louis, Chicago and other poor urban areas.  He met kids who had never seen a tree because they could not pass through gang territory to visit a park.  That was the sixties.

Now urban populations are much larger, parental concern about strangers is greater, and virtual reality in the form of video games, television, i-pods, etc. with other factors all combine to diminish and even eliminate opportunities for unstructured outdoor play.

As a small child I played in streams near our apartment building—areas that I now recognize as ‘stormwater drainage systems’—and had a blast.  I didn’t know it was a degraded ecosystem, wouldn’t have understood what that meant, wouldn’t have cared.  The water worked fine.

For years the Association of State Wetland Managers has argued for recognizing the unique role of urban wetlands.  They almost always rank low with respect to importance and mitigation requirements when compared to wetlands in less altered landscapes.  But sometimes they are the only remaining natural feature in an urban environment—one of few opportunities for children to come into contact with nature. 

There are opportunities to re-think how remnant wetlands and stormwater control areas are managed in towns and cities.  Some do not provide good opportunities to reconnect children with nature, but some do and some could if designed differently.  In addition to ecological services they could provide childhood services.

I learned on the hike Saturday that some things about childhood haven’t changed.  Children still run up the trail bumping and jostling and laughing. They still jump off every rock they can find.  They are excited by signs and sightings of wild animals.  Most of all, they still like being outside, moving and spending time with their friends.

They just need a place.

EPA Watershed Academy–Wetlands  Reconnecting Youth with Nature (May 28, 2009)

Do Today’s Kids Have Nature Deficit Disorder?

Video: Wetlands & Wonder: Reconnecting Children with Nearby Nature

Wetlands are Wonderlands:  Leader/Teacher Guide

Children and Nature Network

Center for Watershed Protection: Wetlands and Watersheds

Evaluating Urban Wetland Restoration

The Human Component of Urban Wetland Restoration

Common Questions Constructing Wetland Boardwalks and Trails

Urban Wetland Restoration: Creating Room to Grow

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