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Celebrate Earth Day 2010: Audubon invites you to unplug and take a walk!

Take to the Trails!
Offers a Week-long Schedule of Free Guided Hikes to Encourage Outdoor Exploration
April 17 — 25, 2010

Audubon-Earth-Day-kidsAudubon encourages Rhode Island residents of all ages to log off the computer and electronics for a day and celebrate planet Earth by plugging into nature.

The big yellow bus pulled into an Audubon wildlife refuge, rolled to a stop, and opened its doors.  With a mixture of excitement and trepidation, students spilled off the bus. But there was one child who refused, and explained, “I don’t want to go, I’m afraid, there might be a lion in the woods.”  For Audubon staff, this fear of the natural world from children of all ages is a reaction they have become familiar with.

Educators at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island have plenty of stories to tell.  They recall the nervous, yet delighted response from urban students holding wriggling tadpoles for the first time. The wide-eyed thrill children experience as they muddy their hands and gently pick up a salamander by a vernal pool. Kids at summer camp, nets in hand, screeching in delight as they spot crabs scuttling along the rocky shore.  There are endless tales of wonder and joy found in the natural world.

Then there are the other stories.  Children who arrive at an Audubon Wildlife Refuge for a school program and are too frightened of the forest to join their class on the trails. Students who fear that hiking on a Rhode Island refuge might bring them into a fatal encounter with an exotic animal.  Youth who are able to memorize word for word the dialogue from a recent television show, but couldn’t identify a maple leaf or pine cone, not to mention any of the birds or other creatures they might encounter locally in nature. And these aren’t just tales of the very young; high school and middle school students are often those displaying the strong fear and lack of understanding of the natural world.

In this day and age, when video games have taken the place of outdoor play, and children learn about nature from a computer screen, the next generation is becoming increasingly disconnected from the natural world. Statistics show that children spend less time playing outdoors than any previous generation. And more and more free time is being spent inside in front of video screens. A study recently released by the Kaiser Family Foundation stated that daily media use among young kids and teens is up dramatically from even five years ago. The average American child (ages 8 to 18) now spends seven hours 38 minutes plugged in per day. That’s 53 hours per week watching electronic entertainment media–an increase of more than one hour per week from just a few years ago. And this increase in electronic entertainment is keeping them inside.

There are more reasons than ever to turn off the gadgets and head outside. This lack of outdoor activity is resulting in high obesity rates, attention disorders and other health issues in children, including increases in diabetes, and heart disease. Besides the obvious physical benefits to outdoor exercise and play, experts cite behavioral and academic advantages as well. And the reality is that today’s youth will face environmental challenges in their future like no generation before.  It is vital that they become educated stewards of the natural world who are prepared to deal with the issues that lie ahead.

There is hope. A national movement has blossomed that encourages families to get outside. Organizations such as the U.S. Park Service, National Wildlife Federation, and others have launched initiatives to encourage outdoor exploration and enjoyment. And here in Rhode Island, Audubon is doing its part to bring nature back to childhood. We offer miles of well-maintained public access trails at wildlife refuges across the state for all ages to enjoy at no cost. Family programs, school field trips, nature walks and more are available year-round to encourage exploration of the natural world. As a member of the national “No Child Left Inside Coalition,” Audubon is working with others to ensure that environmental education legislation becomes law.

And this month, in celebration of Earth Day, Audubon is offering 11 FREE guided walks on wildlife refuges across the state. Families are invited to get out and explore those special places in the state accessible only by foot. Take a nighttime stroll, search for salamanders, explore a salt marsh, or discover the rocky shore of Narragansett Bay. Kids will get exercise and fresh air as they learn about the varied habitats and creatures that call Rhode Island home. There are programs to suite all ages and interests — from mild birding walks on easy trails to strenuous hikes on steep, rocky terrain.

Visit www.asri.org for more information and a complete schedule of FREE Earth Day walks and hikes.

Editors note:
In addition to these free walks, during this week Audubon is also offering a complete schedule of school vacation week programs.  Please call (401) 949-5454 ext. 3041 or email programs@asri.org specifically for school vacation events.

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