KAUFMANN: Get outside and play this June!

Two years ago, I stood in a small crowd listening intently to a stern yet kind National Park ranger. A former U. S. Marine Corps officer, he insisted on properly orienting our boatload of hikers before he allowed us off the dock. Don’t get too close to wildlife, he said; don’t leave micro-trash; pack out everything you pack in.

Then the adventure began: I shouldered my pack and stepped into the wilderness of Isle Royale. What a marvelous country we live in, I thought, that we protect and preserve such parcels as this magnificent place. And what a privilege that I get to enjoy it.

June 2021 is Great Outdoors Month here in the U.S., by recent proclamation. Perusing presidential proclamations is not my habit, but I have happily read over this one several times. I completely agree with its stated purpose of rededicating ourselves to the conservation of America’s Great Outdoors.

The Great Outdoors includes any natural space outside our four walls, from our prized National Parks to our own backyards. Whether we hike for days on a remote island or plant flowers in a raised bed, we are improving our own mental and physical health.

Perhaps more than ever, after such a difficult year, we treasure the many gifts of the outdoors. Trees cleanse the air we breathe; the soft earth invites our feet to explore; bubbling streams soothe our nerves. High ridges offer breathtaking views that feed our souls. Among nature’s wonders we are refreshed, rejuvenated, and reconnected to an enduring, cyclical pace of life.

Reflecting now on our own experiences, we can ask ourselves: where has nature offered us adventure, discovery, connection, solace? In honor of Great Outdoors Month, let’s make time to revisit at least one of these special places.

In addition to re-immersing ourselves in our favorite green spaces, I challenge us (myself included) to seriously consider the following: how can we protect and promote these locations, so that we and others can enjoy them for years to come?

Protecting the outdoors may seem like a tall order, but perhaps we just need to start small. Even in our own neighborhoods, we can heed the advice of the Isle Royale park ranger: respect wildlife and do not litter. We can learn more about the animals, plants and ecology of the places that mean the most to us. The education we gain will enable us to better understand and assist in conservation efforts.

What other actions can we take this month to protect and preserve our cherished streets, gardens, parks, trails and waterways? If we need ideas, we can contact the officials who manage these areas and ask what they recommend.

Promoting these places is also key. We need to spread the word! This can be as simple as inviting a friend to experience our favorite beach, and as deep as considering which populations within our community do not have ready access to natural spaces. What can we do to help them get there?

One way is by sending a child to summer camp. Summer camps are a wonderful place for children to experience the joys of the great outdoors in a safe environment. The YMCA’s Camp Eberhart in Three Rivers, Michigan has many programs available, and it offers day camp bussing from Granger and Cassopolis for a small fee.

As for me, my pack is ready and my shoes are by the door. The wild places up north are calling me.

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