Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Nature Is Not a Place

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Nature Is Not a Place

Article excerpt

Park and recreation agencies have fantastic nature centers. Often a signature facility at a destination park, standard fare for these nature centers includes critter displays, educational exhibits, interpretive trails and outdoors-oriented programming aimed at providing all who enter a truly memorable experience. Staffed by knowledgeable naturalists and biology-minded employees, and occasionally by volunteers, nature centers and the nature-based parks and preserves in which they are located offer an oasis for adults and children alike. Most nature centers are charged with educating the public about the wonders of nature--and most do an exemplary job at this.

But, this isn't good enough. Nature does not exist exclusively at the nature center. When we limit nature learning to a special program or trip, as we often do, we limit the opportunity to truly know nature. Nature is neither a place nor a program. A nature experience should not await just those who make their way to the nature center or who enroll in the local nature program.

Naturally Human

Recognizing the environmental challenges that lie ahead, from warming to cooling and surge to scarcity, today's youngsters will have serious responsibilities as adults. We have an obligation to help our next generation of environmental stewards understand the interconnectedness and importance of the natural world. Park and recreation agencies can play a critical role in educating children (and adults) about nature, which is around us at every moment.

But first, it is important to redefine nature, if not for the dictionary itself, then certainly in casual use. A quick online search displays the following definition of nature.

The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.

I challenge that humans and human creations are not part of nature. Humans are just interconnected to the ecosystem as anything else, relying on just as many other species, natural resources and climate patterns as any other animal on the planet. More importantly, human activity impacts more species, natural resources and climate patterns than any other animal on the planet. Without the intrinsic connection of humans to nature, we risk the very survival of our species. Accepted definitions of the word aside, separating humans from nature is a recipe for putting people before planet, when, without a healthy planet, people simply don't exist.

Natural Lessons in Unlikely Places

As I look at my desk, I see a plastic calculator made of petroleum--a natural resource that has undeniably advanced our society. Next to it, I see my wallet (can't sit on that all day) made of leather and I wonder if it is from the skin of a cow, deer or some other animal. Looking out the window, I see a pond that looks beautifully clear today, but that has a tendency to become muddy brown after a big rain--no doubt affected by nearby construction activity. I see ripples in the pond, presumably from a carp or bass surfacing momentarily. These are all part of nature--from the calculator to the carp. Without asking you to light incense and chant quietly (although, feel free if you wish), I invite you to look at nature not as a thing, but to accept that you and everything around you at all times are part of nature.

As a park and recreation professional, you have the privilege of guiding others, especially children. You have a great opportunity to help instill an appreciation and curiosity for nature. …

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