Young people of Ohio:
Turn off the computers, the televisions, and the PlayStations this summer and get outside and move - and enjoy.
That is the challenge laid down by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and its recreational partners in the "Explore the Outdoors" initiative, which kicked off last weekend.
It is aimed at reuniting children, particularly those in elementary school, with the natural world as a pathway to improving physical and emotional health. And if the young people become better stewards of nature in the bargain, so much the better.
"We want this campaign to ignite interest in the outdoors and help children experience the benefits of being connected with nature," said Sean Logan, ODNR director. "These activities will help them grow into healthy adults with an appreciation and love of their natural surroundings."
The department cites studies showing that the average elementary-age child spends more than six hours a day playing video games, watching television, and operating computers. In Ohio alone a 2007 study showed that 34.3 percent of the state's third-graders either were overweight or obese. In turn, sedentary activities and weight-gain are shown to have long-term developmental and social impacts on children, the ODNR said.
On the other hand, some studies have documented that children who are in touch with the natural world are healthier, perform better in school, and have better self-images.
All of which was reason enough for Ohio's First Lady, Frances Strickland, to lead an Explore the Outdoors kickoff Saturday at Alum Creek State Park in Delaware County. Demonstration activities included a wildflower hike, fishing, a sand treasure-hunt, kite flying, disc golf, and canoeing among others.
At the same time Gov. Ted Strickland and a group of sports celebrities led 11 youths on the inaugural Governor's Turkey Hunt in Muskingum and Coschocton counties.
A full-color 34-page guide for Explore the Outdoors explains 10 activities for young people, from fishing and camping under the stars to birding. Children are encouraged to complete eight of 10 activities during the summer and each time enter an appropriate code from the guide on-line at exploretheoutdoorsohio.com. The first 1,000 children to obtain certificates will be eligible to receive Coleman mini-lanterns.
Some 800,000 Explore the Outdoors Activity Guides are to be distributed in public schools in grades K through 5 this week, the ODNR said. The department's partners in the program include the National Park Service, Audubon Ohio, Wayne National Forest, Leave No Child Inside - Central Ohio and Greater Cincinnati, the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association, Ohio Metro and County Parks, and the state departments of health and education.
Sponsors for the activity guide include the American Heart Association and the Coleman Co. Gander Mountain supported the youth fishing program at Alum Creek, with Raisin Rack Natural Food Market in Westerville providing food and beverages.
Across the state 18 park districts have joined Explore the Outdoors. In northwest Ohio those include Toledo Metroparks, Seneca County Parks, Erie Metroparks, Hancock County Parks, and Wood County Parks.
Commentary: All hands all around - from the Governor and Mrs. Strickland down through the various state departments and partnering agencies and parks, plus the various supporting private businesses - deserve a tip of the outdoors hat for bringing up and calling attention in a positive way to the critical social shortcoming of the growing disconnect between people and nature, especially with children, who are the future. The more our society isolates itself from the natural world, and loses interest in and concern for its conservation and stewardship, the greater the danger becomes that we will continue on the current breakneck path to use up and destroy the very world, the only world, that sustains and nurtures us. If you think that these are the quaint, mere mutterings of that "outdoors guy in the paper," wake up and get smart fast. Or our kids and grandkids surely will pay for our arrogance and ignorance.
This summer will tell how effective Explore the Outdoors will be. But take this to the bank: It will not succeed without you and your example as parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, neighbor, or mentor. Kids are organic recording machines - they copy perfectly what they see in the adults around them.
Today Park Pals program on insects, 10 a.m., Oak Openings Preserve Metropark/Lodge, call for reservations 419-407-9700; also, Side Cut Explorer tram-ride, 10 a.m., Side Cut/Riverview Area lot; also Poaching Awareness program, 7 p.m., Side Cut/ Lamb Center; also, Friday, bird watch and coffee, 7:45 a.m., Wildwood Preserve Metropark/Visitor Center; also, volunteer naturalist field training, 9:30 a.m., Secor Metropark/Nature Photography Center, repeats Saturday 1 p.m.; also, Maumee River canoeing, 1 p.m., for details and reservations call 419-407-9709; also, Sunday, Blue Weekend, tour of area celebrating rare blue species, noon to 3 p.m., Oak Openings/Mallard Lake Area,, for reservations call Kelli Krueger at The Nature Conservancy 419-867-1521; also, Towpath trek, 1 p.m., 4.4 miles along Maumee River, from Farnsworth Metropark/Boat launch, call for reservations; also, Monday, full moon walk, 9 p.m., Swan Creek Preserve Metropark/Airport Highway entrance, call to register.
Tomorrow Public boating forum on long-range strategic plan, 7 to 9 p.m., by Ohio Division of Watercraft, at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, 14000 West State Rt. 2, Oak Harbor; call watercraft at 614-265-6500.
Thursday Wildflower walk, 10 a.m., Hidden Lake Gardens, M-50 west of Tecumseh, Mich., call the Gardens to register 517-431-2060; also, Sunday, bird walk at the Gardens, 8 a.m.; call to register.
Thursday Trapshoot, 6 p.m., Sandusky County Sportsmen s Club, State Rt. 600 east of Gibsonburg; also, Saturday, .22 silhouette shoot, call Dave Gay 419-287-3884; also, Sunday, bowshoot, 30 3-D targets, register 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; call Bob Fisher 419-410-3237.
Saturday Spring walk about wetlands, wildflowers, and birds, 10 a.m., Pearson Metropark/Packer-Hammersmith Center, with Toledo Metroparks John Jaeger; call Black Swamp Conservancy to register 419-872-5263.
Saturday North Coast Open, Toledo Naturalists all-day birding tournament; to join a team call Greg Links via 419-877-9640.
Saturday Bird walk, 8:30 a.m.; meet at west end of Magee Marsh Board Walk.
Saturday Boating education course, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Arrowhead Lodge/Seneca Lake, Montpelier; call the Ohio Division of Watercraft 419-836-6003.
Saturday Youth and women s shoot, Wolf Creek Sportmen s Association, 349 Teachout Rd., north of State Rt. 2, Curtice; for details call Sam Schwiefert 419-691-2016; also, Monday, trapshoot, 6 p.m., call Rick Ferguson 419-836-5264.
Saturday Bowshoots, Straightened Arrows, register 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Defiance County Fish and Game Club, State Rt. 15 northwest of Defiance across from Oxbow State Wildlife Area, 3-D targets, call Allan Hansford 419-439-3155; also, Saturday and Sunday, Lincoln Bowmen, 26245 King Rd., Romulus, Mich., register 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., traditional rendezvous weekend, call Matt Gibbons 734-283-5465; also, Sunday, Tomahawk Archers, 2085 Erie Rd., Temperance, Mich., register 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., black bear shoot, call Jay Kimura 419-351-8190; also, Sunday, Carleton Sportsmen s Club, 14100 Sumpter Rd., Carleton, Mich., register 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., 30 3-D targets, call Jeff Georgic 734-654-9267; also, Sunday, Post 46 Hunt and Fish Club, 8888 Dexter Rd., Dexter, Mich., register 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., 30 3-D targets; call Jon Geer 734-353-0238.
Saturday and Sunday Blues Weekend, celebrating the Karner blue butterfly and wild lupine, blueberries, and blue-spotted salamanders, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, at Kitty Todd Preserve, 10420 Old State Line Rd.; hikes, birding, nature photography, native plant sale, workshops on butterflies and rain gardens, bike hike, and more; for details and specific times, call Kelli Krueger at The Nature Conservancy 419-867-1521.
Saturday and Sunday Maumee Valley Gun Collectors Association gun show, Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Lucas County Recreation Center, 2801 Key St., Maumee; call 419-893-1110 or visit on-line mvgca.com.
Saturday and May 24 Boating education course, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. each Saturday at new Glass City Municipal Marina off Front Street, east side, downtown, by Toledo Sail and Power Squadron; to register call James Sommers 419-297-7420; to reserve a dock for class, call 419-936-3848.
Saturday and Sunday Northwest Zone trapshoot, six events, 9:30 a.m. daily, Jaqua s Trap Club, 900 East Bigelow Ave., Findlay; call the club 419-422-0912.
Sunday Public open house, Lou Campbell State Nature Preserve, Weckerly Road south of State Rt. 2; for details call preserve office 419-445-1775.