Where are all the kids?

I was recently looking at visitation statistics* for lands managed by the National Park Service and noticed an alarming trend - numbers of visitors to our nations national parks, national recreation areas, national seashores, etc. have been on the decline since the late 90's:

1997: 275,236,335
1998: 286,762,265
1999: 287,130,879
2000: 285,891,275
2001: 279,873,926
2002: 277,299,880
2003: 266,099,641
2004: 276,908,337
2005: 273,488,751
2006: 272,623,980

*Data from Public Use Statistics Office of the NPS

While some may view this as welcome relief for our sometimes overused national park lands, I view it as part of a larger problems that we're experiencing - less and less people are being exposed to the wonders of the out-of-doors. Why is this a concern? It's a concern because it begs the question of who will be the next generation of supporters of national parks and other public lands. As you've no doubt heard, there has been a great emphasis placed on getting more kids outside. The book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv sparked much action to combat what he termed nature deficit disorder. Many of the federal land management agencies have programs such as the Bureau of Land Management's Take It Outside program. There are also many web-based resources such as the Children and Nature Network which are specifically trying to provide more opportunities for children to get out and experience the out-of-doors.

With all the increased emphasis on getting kids outside, Leave No Trace certainly has a role to play. More people on the land means more opportunities for impact. However, it also mean more opportunities for education! If every kid who experiences the out-of-doors were introduced to Leave No Trace, think what the future of our shared lands would look like. While it saddens me greatly to think that we've become so technologically advanced that our kids our now suffering from nature deficit disorder, I do find great hope in the fact that steps, BIG steps, are being taken to expose our youth to all that nature has to offer.