Outdoor education benefits kids, state economy

(By Jack Gray and Dick Powell as published in the Eugene Register-Guard, 4/30/2016)

Getting outdoors ­— out of the classroom and immersed in how our natural world works — inspires kids and opens possibilities they never dreamed of before.

This is why Tillamook County, for example, whose economic base relies heavily on natural resources, is such a strong believer in outdoor education. The people of Tillamook understand that the link between outdoor education and economic impact is not at all a “bit of a stretch,” as Sen, Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, put it, because the next generation’s success as adults depends on having an appreciation and knowledge of natural resources.

Our society is increasingly urbanized and increasingly distanced from the natural world. If our children believe their cereal and milk come from Fred Meyer or that 2-by-4s come from Home Depot, when they grow up they are more likely to make uninformed decisions regarding their use and care of the natural world.

Outdoor school is a chance for them to connect to the world around them — a world that provides their food, building materials and recreation.

As the population grows, our utter and complete dependence on natural resources will not change. The real question is how we will manage and use those resources in a way that will sustain us, and will sustain all other life forms as well. Learning how to do this begins in childhood — and that is where our schools play a critical role.

For many kids throughout Oregon, outdoor school is their first experience outdoors. If we are going to train, motivate, inspire and recruit the next generation of leaders, workers and enthusiasts — and continue to honor our natural heritage as both an economic engine and a living treasure — then a solid foundation in outdoor and natural resource education is vital.

When you consider the importance and value of our natural resources in Oregon, one week of outdoor education seems the minimum we can offer our kids. School districts across the state have been fighting for consistent, additional funding for outdoor school for years. A system that depends on fundraising and high student fees is not sufficient, equitable or sustainable.

The Outdoor School for All campaign is the next logical step toward getting funding for every kid in Oregon.

The Register-Guard’s April 12 editorial claims that under current law, Oregon State University assists school districts by awarding “grants,” but without this measure passing, there is no money for OSU to award. This measure will allow all Oregon kids, from both rural and urban areas, regardless of income or background, to attend one week of hands-on education that not only helps them achieve state education standards but gives them a shared experience of what it means to be an Oregonian.

Noted economist Dr. Robin Hahnel concluded that a statewide, week-long outdoor education program could reasonably be expected to generate more than 600 full-time jobs and more than $27 million annually in income in the state. It is worth noting that these jobs would be primarily located in rural areas, where structural unemployment is acute.

Assuming this program runs year after year, these jobs would be permanent. What a great legacy for our state!

Clearly, outdoor school’s impact reverberates throughout our economy in many different ways — in industries such as agriculture, timber, manufacturing, outdoor recreation and natural sciences. Far from being outside the original intent of the lottery, outdoor school is exactly what the lottery was created for — supporting and fostering both short- and long-term economic growth.

And that’s an investment in our future worth making.

Jack Gray is a farmer in Noti. Dick Powell of Corvallis is a retired forester and volunteer with the Forest Camp and Philomath Outdoor School.

 

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