One of the key components of the OTG Jr. Program is creating a connection between the student participants and public land. The whole concept behind this program is to show students and their parents/teachers that there is accessible outdoor recreation not too far from where they live. We are trying to show them they do not have to drive hours away “up north” to get outside and engage with Michigan’s natural resources. We are attempting to develop a stewardship ethic in the people who join us and help them to feel a connection to their public land.
So far this fall we have had students planting trees, clearing fields, and building brush piles. It has been our early experiences during this pilot year that kids are yearning for the opportunity to do more stewardship work. It’s a common phrase to hear today that kids don’t go outside and play anymore. But for this program its been hard to get the kids out of the woods. Once we get them off the bus and working on a project, we have not had any trouble keeping them motivated. The excitement and enthusiasm they have even just picking sticks up out of the field is hard to match.
On top of the initial introduction to the public land idea and teaching a bit about conservation, the kids are also able to develop a sense of pride in the work they have done. We have heard the students talking about wanting to come back to see the fields after they have been planted with native grasses. We have also heard students talking to each other about whose tree will grow the biggest in 10 years. I even heard a group of sixth graders say they wanted to come back with their parents to show them all of the hard work for the wildlife they put in a few weeks ago.
Beyond the connection to the land itself, this program is designed to teach the students a tangible skill. For the three projects this fall we choose archery to be the recreation activity. We had over 150 students in the three different projects. Roughly, 90% of them had never held a bow before. The program is designed to help these new and budding conservationists to learn skills and build them.
After going over parts of the bow, the parts of an arrow and extensive safety precautions, we gave all the kids a chance to put some arrows down range. With MUCC Volunteer Coordinator Sarah Topp and myself running the archery line we taught the kids the 11 fundamental steps of archery. We had the kids focus heavily on their stance, grips and follow through. After a couple of errant arrows, the kids began to get the hang of things. By the end of the session, many of the kids could consistently hit the target and were having a great time learning.
So far this fall we have been very successful in connecting these kids to the conservation community. Helping them learn new skills but most importantly connecting them to conservation is what OTG Jr. is all about. So next time you find yourself complaining about “kids these days playing too many video games”, invite one of them to join you on a hunt, or hike. They are dying to get outside, and it is our job to show them where to start.