Our children may grow up surrounded by a fantastic, forested abode; but without the skills to enjoy their surroundings; they will remain as detached from nature as the kids on K-Street in Washington, DC or in Compton, California. There is a false perception that rural kids somehow know everything about the woods and waters, as if such skills are bestowed by birthright. The stereotype holds that by living in close proximity to wild lands, local youth are mysteriously imbibed through some odd sort of backwoods osmosis with incredible wildwood wisdom.
Sadly, it doesn't work that way. Kids still have to learn about the woods and waters from someone, somehow, someway; the same way adults do.
For rural communities to remain sustainable, leaders must recognize the importance of providing local youth with opportunities to connect with their surroundings. We have always placed greater value and protection on the places we utilize and enjoy.
We must also instill within the youth an appreciation for the region's natural resources. Local kids deserve such an opportunity; it should not be an advantage afforded only to the advantaged. We must realize that the current youth of our communities will be the future leaders of these communities. They should be valued as two-legged, mobile repositories of our combined culture and history, a virtual bank of shared customs and values, traditions and desires.
Consider this, as you stare down the Main Street of your own town. What would you like to pass along? What component of community life is the most important aspect to save for future generations? Hopefully, your community bank will not be filled with deposits that earn 'No Interest'.
The next generation
Without a mentor, or the mentorship opportunities provided through such traditional channels as scouting or 4-H, many rural youth will continue to lack the ability and know how necessary to effectively enjoy their surroundings.