Lessons for the New Year

For my New Years resolution; Ive made a commitment to get more North Country youth involved in the outdoors. As a professional guide, Ive spent the last 30 years introducing families to the outdoors; however the majority of my guests have been from out of the area. So too, are most of the people I encounter in the woods these days. Sadly, Ive come to recognize that these visitors often possess a greater appreciation for the region than many locals. However, Ive also discovered that these visitors suffer a similar familiarity complex in their own home environment. Just as many Adirondackers have never climbed Mt. Marcy; paddled the Raquette or cast a fly to a rising brook trout; many of our urban visitors have never been to the Statue of Liberty, visited Radio City Music Hall or climbed the Empire State Building. I suppose its just human nature that we tend to overlook the familiar; take it for granted and fail to appreciate the tremendous resources we have available. Too often, we dont take advantage of our own backyards. There are only about 137,000 of us fortunate enough to live in a region that the majority of people only get to visit. And, we have the opportunity to enjoy it year-round at no cost. Sure, we make concessions for this privilege. We live in a public park; pay high gas prices; worry about taxes and the cost of heating our homes. Black flies bite each of us equally. Though we shed our muddy boots at door, we do not shed our worries. We all make compromises by living here. Adirondackers put up with long, cold winters, frost heaved roads, mud season, slow driving tourists and a host of hardships and other indignities that would drive lesser folks away. Yet, we willingly compromise on such inconveniences for the opportunity to live, work and play in a place like no other. Once in a while you find a place on earth that becomes your very own. A place undefined. A place untouched, unspoiled, undeveloped. Raw, honest, and haunting. No one, nothing is telling you how to feel or who to be. Let the mountains have you for a day The quote actually comes from Sundance Resort in Utah, yet it could easily be ascribed to the Adirondacks, as could the following by the poet, Walt Whitman. Now I see the secret of making the best persons. It is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth. Despite extensive studies verifying the numerous benefits of the outdoor life; the detachment of the current generation of American children from the land continues to spiral downward. This recognized detachment is due in part to a proliferation of electronic entertainment combined with an increase in over scheduled and over protected kids. Despite parental attempts at over protection, intrusions of the Internet and television's propensity to leave no stone (or skirt) uncovered has stolen many a childs innocence. Simply put, todays kids do not have the ambition nor the opportunities to enjoy the unstructured and unsupervised, random recreation that was readily available to generations past. Many children dont know how to create their own entertainment. Games like capture the flag, red rover or such simple pleasures as tree houses and forts in the woods are merely nostalgic notions. Such traditional entertainment just cant compare with an iPod, Play Station or a Wii. Indeed, cell phones are no longer considered just a communications device. Simply put, they are used by kids primarily for entertainment, whether it be text messaging, taking photos or playing a miniature version of Game Boy. It has been estimated that todays kids spend an average of 44.5 hours a week staring at a screen, whether a computer, television or a video game. While we are gearing up to confront this issue, we are facing the greatest environmental crisis of all time in the face of global warming, which will certainly change the face of the planet and our patterns of use more dramatically than any other factor. Our parents, the Greatest Generation, helped to save the world in World War II. They raised us in a Andy of Mayberry world and then bequeathed the earth to us, the boomers. Despite the rhetoric of our back to the land and save the earth movements of the 60s and 70s; we took our eyes off the prize. After saving the whales, we lost sight of important matters and became consumed with accumulation. Priorities became a big house with two SUVs in the yard and a TV in every room. Now, as the primary expenses include filling up the SUV and paying taxes on the big house; it is time to refocus our energies. We are rapidly growing past the time to affect change as the boomers near retirement. If we do not take the time to instill in our youth the intrinsic values of outdoor recreation; they will be lost. And if lost, so too the woods. If the next generation does not know how to use the outdoor environment, they wont enjoy it. If they dont enjoy it; it will not be appreciated and it will hold no value. That which is no longer of use holds no value and there will be no need to protect it. It is more crucial now than ever to instill a love of the land in our children. While it may be beyond our capacity to affect change, they surely can. Today, the Adirondack landscape is wilder than it has been in over 100 years. We no longer have extraction industries and forestry practices have evolved to the point where working forests are actually beneficial to the environment. Yet significant threats remain and will continue beyond our years. Teach your children; learn from them and well all benefit.

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