Thursday, March 12, 2015

Catching up on news you may have missed -- March 12, 2015 column


You know about Hillary Clinton’s private emails and about the infamous letter signed by 47 Senate Republicans aimed at torpedoing an international deal on Iran’s nuclear program.

But did you know the federal government is about to make many of us envy a fourth grader?

That’s one of the lesser news items you may have missed the last few weeks as news outlets obsessed over weightier topics and scandals du jour.

Here are three recent developments that won’t change the fate of the world or even the 2016 presidential election but may – just may -- improve Americans’ quality of life:

1) About those fourth graders: Starting this fall, the federal government will give every fourth grader and their families a pass for free admission to all of America’s national parks and public lands for a full year.

“We want every fourth grader to have the experience of getting out and discovering America. We want them to see the outside of a classroom,” President Barack Obama said in Chicago last month when he announced his “Every Kid in a Park” initiative.

“Put down that smart phone for a second. Put away the video games. Breathe some fresh air,” the dad in chief counseled.  A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that young people devote an average of more than seven hours a day to electronic media use, or about 53 hours a week, he said. That’s more than a full time job.

Besides the addictive appeal of electronic devices, there are practical reasons why kids don’t spend more time in nature. About 80 percent of families live in urban areas where it’s not easy to spend time outdoors safely; many schools have dropped field trips to save money.

An annual pass to the nation’s parks and public lands usually costs $80, and children under 16 are always free. Giving kids themselves the passes, though, may help create a lifetime connection to nature. But first, they have to get there.

Needy families will receive transportation grants to visit parks, public lands and waters from the National Park Foundation, a charitable organization that supports the National Park Service.

Research has found that early exposure to nature and outdoor activities can influence attitudes in adulthood. Today’s young hiker may be tomorrow’s steward of the environment. Or not.

Young screen fanatics who spend most of their time indoors will grow up without any appreciation of nature. As adults, they won’t care less about preserving undeveloped nature.   

2) Which leads us to Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and her announcement Thursday of a $5 million grant over four years from the American Express Foundation.

The goal: triple the number of volunteers in national parks and public lands to one million volunteers annually by 2017.

Interior is working to engage the next generation of ordinary citizens, mayors and state and federal officials in nature so everybody understands and wants to preserve green space.

“We need partners,” said Jewell, whose agency has responsibility for one in five acres in the United States. “We can’t do it alone.”

American Eagle Outfitters donated $1 million last year and began engaging other companies in the campaign.

“We won’t have advocates for open spaces if people don’t value them,” Jewell said.
Among her plans is to expand the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, modeled on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, which puts the unemployed and recent veterans to work.

3) Finally, a hopeful news alert: The cherry blossoms are coming.

Blossom experts (yes, they are) predict the peak will be April 11 to 14, a week or so later than usual because of the long, cold winter. But even in politically-fractured 
Washington, the blossoms are a sure sign that spring is around the corner. Somewhere.  

Dates for the Cherry Blossom Festival were set earlier. The festival is slated to run from March 20 to April 12, which means the blossoms once again may only partly coincide with the festivities.

For that miscalculation, you may blame Obama…Clinton…Republicans...but it’s all a stretch.

Speaking of stretching…put down that phone, step outside and breathe. We can’t all be fourth graders, but we all can get outside. And that’s not an inconsequential goal in the digital age. 

© 2015 Marsha Mercer. All rights considered.


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