Mobilization and Events

The Boston Signature Summit: How to get the Millennial Generation Outdoors

wyThis past summer, supporters of Outdoor Nation gathered in Boston, where they camped on Georges Island, then spent the day at the University of Massachusetts. The summit was dedicated to taking a look at what is needed to get the millennial generation outdoors. Nikki Hodgson, an attendee of the Boston Summit, wrote this overview of the experience. While the summit happened months ago, the issues are still relevant and Outdoor Nation continues to support and find ways to innovatively solve these issues.

Day two of the Outdoor Nation Summit in Boston starts with a flurry of activity as we scramble to get our tents and bags packed in time to catch the ferry back to the Boston harbor.

It’s one of those picture-perfect mornings; the kind that make you feel certain everything will end up alright. Warm, slight breeze, crystal clear skies, Boston cityscape in the background.

Georges Island was a generous host, offering beautiful weather, a historic setting, and a view of Boston that money couldn’t buy. We spent the evening sitting around a campfire watching the sunset and listening to The North Face ambassadors Pete Athens, Juan Martinez, and Johnny Collinson speak about their lives and the inspiration they derive from being outside. The whole experience was perfect, and I’m reluctant to leave, but we have a full day ahead and there are grants to be won. Also, I need coffee.

Leaning against the window of the ferry, watching Georges Island fade into the horizon, I listen to the groups discuss the details of their projects and presentations.

Snippets from yesterday’s discussions flit through my head. Overwhelming statistics like “80% of minority youth are not involved in the outdoors” and “the average young American spends seven hours a day in front of a screen and four minutes outside” offer startling evidence that the disconnect between our society and our wild spaces is widening at a dramatic and alarming rate.

Yesterday we asked ourselves why.

As we compiled a list of issues to address, an animated discussion broke out among the group with everyone suggesting various ideas of what’s needed to get the millennial generation outdoors and active.

A lack of material resources like equipment and finances, a lack of accessibility, and a lack of awareness about existing opportunities and programs were highlighted as key issues in many urban communities. While others argued that there was also a need to balance outdoor experience with environmental education and that it was important to show the economic, professional, and personal health value of getting outside.

The conversation continued, peppered with jargon and discussion of technology. And then someone stood up and simply said, “We need people to see that the outdoors is for everyone and you don’t have to be an environmental nutjob to go camp.”

A burst of laughter erupted and then steadily rippled throughout the group followed by nods of agreement.

“The point, I think, is that we all experience the outdoors in our own way. In the way that we can.”

More smiles and nods of agreement.

At the end of our two days, a total of $11,500 was given and ten projects funded. The project that received the largest grant (Get Out and Stay Out) plans to pair mentors with high school students in order to teach them outdoor skills, recreation, and leadership. Their objective is to teach youth how to enjoy the outdoors on their own with the idea that this will help them to lead others. Receiving the highest number of votes, their presentation included a slideshow with photos of individuals embarking on an adventure for the first time and then a quick look at what they went on to accomplish after that initial experience. Although the activities and the outcomes were all different, one thing was clear: getting people outside was the jumping off point for amazing things.