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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 11.20.08




Leave No Child Inside

The importance of connecting children and nature

by Chris Jones

My son Sylvan just turned 3 years old. He doesn’t know about native plants or invasive exotic plants, though he does know the word “weed” and uses it to refer to anything green he’s about to yank out of the ground. 

He doesn’t know about ecological restoration, trail maintenance or creating networks of native ecosystems to preserve the health of native animals, plants and local humans. 

What he does know is walking, or riding in a backpack, through some of the Willamette Valley’s healthiest native forests, savannas and meadows in Buford Park. He knows stopping to look at flowers and at lichen. He knows trails. He knows woodpeckers and chickadees, great blue herons and bald eagles. 

He knows that we go to the South Meadow Quonset hut at Buford Park to sit on Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah’s tractor (gently, no touching the buttons) and pretend to shift from low speed (the turtle) to high speed (the bunny rabbit). He knows that it’s fun to stand next to the Coast Fork Willamette River at the South Meadow’s rocky point bar, where there is an endless supply of rocks to throw into the river. 

What you grow up with is what you consider normal. I want Sylvan, and all children, to consider it normal to go for a hike on a trail. I want them to consider it normal to throw rocks into a river. I want them to consider it normal to associate tractors with parks and restoration as well as with agriculture. I want them to see gardens as normal — not just the vegetable garden in our yard that serves a purely human purpose, but also Friends of Buford Park’s giant garden, our native plant nursery, that serves the southern Willamette Valley’s native ecosystems and all of the life forms on which they depend.

Sure, Sylvan won’t know what an ecosystem is until he’s at least 4. But when he wants to know what an ecosystem is, I won’t have to explain plants, animals, forests, meadows, floodplains, rivers and rocks. All of that will already be familiar to him. He’ll know about all of them from his visits to Buford Park. 

Two free events will address “Nature Deficit Disorder” and creating more opportunities for children to connect with nature. At 7 pm Thursday, Nov. 20, Martin LeBlanc, founding board member of the Children and Nature Network (childrenandnature.org), will make the keynote address “Why Leave No Child Inside?” at Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah Fall Celebration at The Shedd’s Jaqua Hall (East Broadway and High Street). 

From 10 am to 2 pm Saturday, Nov. 22, families and children of all ages are invited to Play in the Rain Day.  Meet at Mt. Pisgah Arboretum’s White Oak Pavilion for fun, youth-friendly outdoor activities, including hay rides, map and compass, campfire cookery and nature crafts. LeBlanc’s visit and Play in the Rain Day are sponsored by the Youth In Nature Partnership (www.YouthInNature.org). Parking will be free for the event.

Chris Jones is president of the board of Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah