CATS developing outdoor education plan

WESTPORT-Champlain Area Trails (CATS) is developing a plan to increase outdoor education for all ages in the central Champlain Valley.

With funding from the J.C. Kellogg Foundation, CATS is hosting a series of meetings for educators, naturalists, camp-directors, family advocates, and others to create the Outdoor Education Action Plan.

"This plan will promote a coordinated approach to outdoor education and focus on teaching about our local environment," Chris Maron, executive director of CATS, said. "The central Champlain Valley is biologically rich with a tremendous variety of plants, animals, and natural communities. Learning more about it will add to local pride, strengthen our communities, and provide fun, healthy activities for everyone."

CATS is working with community planning advisor Ann Ruzow Holland to develop the plan. She is leading participants through a process which lists existing outdoor educators and programs, identifies barriers limiting and opportunities to expand outdoor education, and develops strategies to engage people of all ages in learning more about the local environment. The meetings take place at the Whallonsburg Grange.

"We decided to focus first on youth because they are in schools, so we are doing that this spring. In the fall, we will develop the plan for adults and families and then combine the two plans into a single document," Holland said.

Three issues already raised are the need for funds, children staying indoors with electronic entertainment, and everybody's busy schedules.

"Discussing the barriers is exactly what's needed, because each problem presents opportunities which become action strategies in the plan," Maron said.

"The meetings have already helped shape opportunities for children. Learning about fellow educators, new nature trails and nearby facilities like Poke-O-MacCready help me provide better service and arrange new outings," Elizabeth Lee, an outdoor guide and Director of the Westport Youth Commission, said. "An area-wide action plan will help me talk with funders about which strategies would make the most difference to the local families and visitors I work with all year."

The target area for the plan is the towns of Willsboro, Essex, Westport, Lewis, and Elizabethtown because they are separated from surrounding areas by mountains, share the same natural environments and are served by only three schools. The plan will encourage others to use and adjust its strategies to increase outdoor education in their own communities.

To learn about and/or participate in developing the Central Champlain Valley Outdoor Education Action Plan, contact Champlain Area Trails (518-962-2287), champlaintrails@gmail.com; www.champlainareatrails.com.

The next planning meeting is Thursday, May 12, from 4 to 6 pm.

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