Nature lovers unite … online?

Published 10:55 am Thursday, February 6, 2014

Photo submitted by CHARLIE ARCHAMBAULT

Photo submitted by CHARLIE ARCHAMBAULT

ANN ARBOR —With this winter’s uncommonly frigid days and large snowfall totals, many families in the Great Lakes region have had a hard time getting their kids outside for the past couple months.

Cooped up inside, it may seem like there’s no way help kids stay connected to nature. But now, thanks to the National Wildlife Federation, there’s a new online community—Wildlife Nation—where parents can link up with other, like-minded folks to share ideas for keeping kids active and involved in nature year-round.

“We started Wildlife Nation because we can’t imagine a world where nature and wildlife are not a part of kids’ lives,” said Becky Lentz, director of Great Lakes programs and operations at the National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Regional Center. “Our goal is to create a community where we all help each other so that kids today can enjoy the wonders of wildlife, whether they live in a large city, a suburb, or rural community.”

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is the largest private, nonprofit conservation organization in the United States, with more than 4 million members. Since its founding in 1936, the organization has worked to connect youth with the natural environment.

Many parents will themselves remember being inspired by NWF’s “Ranger Rick” magazine. The new online social network, accessible at, is one way that the conservation organization is taking that mission into the 21st century.

The project is the brainchild of Becky Lentz and Julia Liljegren, regional education manager at the Great Lakes Regional Center. Together with their tech partners, build/create studios in Ann Arbor, they have spent more than two years readying the site, a sort of “niche Facebook,” for the public launch, which began in January.

“The Wildlife Nation community is online and on-the-ground, so teams of one or more adults do stuff outside with kids and then connect with others to share what they are doing online,” Liljegren said. “People can do as much or as little as they want, how and when they want to do it.”

Both individuals and organizations can join Wildlife Nation. There are 16 founding teams representing the states of Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Vermont. Founding teams include families, schools, corporations, organizations and state agencies. Although the main focus has been on the Great Lakes region, the site is accessible nationwide.

“When you log on to Wildlife Nation, you can join an existing team or create one and then link up with one of the actions you want to join,” Lentz said. “We have all kinds of people and groups that are working towards one of our four main actions: building habitats, fishing, camping, and planting trees.”

Another action area, “Teamspirations,” serves as a kind of “catch-all” where teams can share less structured, more unique ways to “keep the wild alive” in kids and communities. Teamspirations include activities like hiking, nature photography, scavenger hunts and many other ways to explore wildlife and the great outdoors.

“It’s free to join, and there are no expectations, just the hope that people will share their ideas and ways to get kids out into nature,” Lentz said.

On the site, parents and other organizations that serve kids will find ideas that they can use right now, in the dead of winter. Or, they can use the site to plan activities to do once the weather breaks. Parents can also involve their kids in posting pictures and telling stories about encounters with nature that they have had in the past.

For example, if families have tried out any of the nature-related ideas that have been covered in Off the Water in recent months, those would be experiences that could be shared on Wildlife Nation. Even though some activities take place indoors—like building a birdhouse at Fernwood or enjoying a program at the Curious Kids Museum or Sarett Nature Center, those are still ways to get kids involved with wildlife and the environment.

A series of video clips, found in the “Community Story” section, can also help to inspire kids and families to get out and explore the wild world around them. A FAQ section on the site answers a wide range of questions that visitors to the site may have as they get involved in the online community.

“Wildlife Nation is about one thing: inspiring people to go out and enjoy wildlife,” said Liljegren. “Each person has a story to tell and every one of us can help make a difference so that kids can enjoy wildlife now and for years to come.”