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'No child left inside'

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'No child left inside'






Billings Gazette


CODY -- With changing demographics among visitors to national parks, and some observing that kids increasingly feel less comfortable in nature, it's time for gateway communities to launch a "no child left inside" program.


That was the message Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis delivered to a gathering of business owners and civic leaders here Monday.


"Visitation is going down nationwide in the National Park Service," Lewis said. "For Yellowstone in 2006, we'll finish up at about a 1 percent drop" from last year.


Lewis said there was also "a lot of debate going on about 'nature deficit syndrome,'" citing "Last Child in the Woods," a book by Richard Louv that postulates today's Internet-generation is less likely to identify with nature.


"When I grew up in suburban Ohio, we played in the woods all day long," she said. "But today, a lot of kids aren't comfortable in the outdoors. When you add computers, video games, TV and all those things, we're absolutely producing a culture of children that don't identify with the outdoors."


Which could mean bad news for national parks and the communities that depend on them for business, she said.


"If that is true, then who are going to come to parks in next 20 years?" Lewis asked. "And when they do come, what will be their comfort level in the parks? What will they want in these wild places?"


Lewis said a declining interest in nature may mean a lack of long-term stewardship for places including Yellowstone, but she said such a trend also represented "an opportunity in Cody and other communities."


"When your visitors come to Cody, you have to look at how to market yourself," she said. "What are you doing to help families have a good experience in the outdoors?"


The same challenge faces those in Yellowstone who create interpretive programs, she said.


"You have to have exciting, fun things they want to do. If it looks like a boring walk with Mom and Dad, it's something (kids) don't identify with," she said.


"So how do we entice them with information before they come? Maybe it's something on their iPod and computer that makes them excited about getting out of the car."


Lewis also touched on other issues of concern to gateway communities, including park infrastructure and the process of managing finite resources.


She said road construction from the east gate to Sylvan Pass was going well, but rising construction costs and growth elsewhere in the region had affected park projects.


She said receiving only one construction bid recently for a new visitor center at Old Faithful showed the growing competition for builders in the area.


"It used to be we were the biggest generator of (construction) work in the region, and we're not any more, and it's showing," she said. "Things are getting tighter and more competitive."


Bids closed last week on the third phase of renovations at the Old Faithful Inn, she said, which is budgeted at around $9 million.


"Our next and only big project in the next couple of years is completing the Madison-to-Gibbon road and Canyon Rim Drive," she said. Based on public comments, Canyon Rim Drive will become one-way, entering from the south, she said.


Lewis said park administrators around the country must work to find better processes for reaching consensus on management issues, citing the debate over snowmobiles as an example of how the process should be improved.


"This spring, we'll release our third environmental impact statement" on snowmobiles, she said. "We'll exceed 1 million public comments on that issue."


New processes are needed "to follow up on challenges like that," she said. "We have to come up with new ways in the community -- when we have disagreement about how to move forward -- to take the least amount of time to make the best decisions we can."

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To get them back in the park again, I suggest making kid rides using all of the old outdated monuments, such as Ole Faithful. They could put a big tub on top the old geyser and kids could sit in it until it erupts sending them way up into the sky. They would squeal with delight and people from all over the country would once again pour back into the parks to fill up all of the hotels and motels and they could build thousands more. Using snowmobiles and big wheeled vehicles to tear across the countryside is another really great idea. People love to climb rocks with their big trucks/SUV's, so this activity would bring in that bunch. They could also build a theme park to commemorate the days when people went out and looked at nature. There could be wild rides down mountainsides and through old caverns. They might even put in a race track, to attract those that love the rumble of engines or maybe a covered/domed stadium and buy a football team and call them the chipmunks. I suggest bringing the city to the country in every conceivable way. Heck, people could live there year-round. A one-percent drop per year is devastation because that means in one hundred years, nobody will want to look at the mountains and all of that kind of junk. Let's get behind this push and we can start by cutting or burning down all of the trees and then leveling the mountains to get a better view. More McDonalds and less woods! FB

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