In response to Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, Sheridan Steele , Superintendent of Acadia National Park, , convened two discussion groups in 2007. He was sympathetic to the views expressed in the publication; that children no longer enjoyed a regular connection to nature. He invited a diverse group of outdoor recreation and environmental education practitioners to come and discuss how to affect change regarding connecting kids to the outdoors in Maine. These discussions created a spark. An action group formed around continuing the discussion. This led to two accomplishments in 2008: a conference at the Augusta Civic Center called “The Governor’s Conference on Youth and the Natural World, and the formation of an initiative called “Take it Outside”.
Following the excitement and energy around organizing a conference and creating the Take It Outside campaign momentum slowed. A lot of thought went into the need for an initiative that would be more independent, sustainable and inclusive, to increase the potential for collective impact. This was especially important since there were very limited resources available to the effort. A small core from the early days was energized by the addition of a new team member who’s position was at least partially tied to helping this movement to regain momentum. Regular meetings were held at “The Frontier” in Brunswick, the unofficial headquarters for this phase.
This core developed a plan to create a baseline of sorts across the state around the issue of connecting people to nature. A survey was created and distributed to a wide range of agencies categorized into specific target sectors which were determined to have an impact on the problem: Recreation, Conservation, Education, Built Environment / Place and Health. The group started collecting data from organizations, entities, and businesses within these sectors to map out potential partnerships and networking opportunities. Out of this initiative came a great deal of information about the current state of affairs in Maine regarding connecting people to nature, and a significant increase in the number of individuals available and interested in helping with the effort.
In September of 2011, LLBean hosted a meeting which brought together a number of these organizations to discuss the potential for collaborative projects. Out of this meeting, three priorities were developed: a bi-annual event to get folks outside, the power of network development among the organizations, and the need for a large scale marketing plan.
In December 2011, all of the organizations came together at a meeting in Brunswick to discuss these projects and think about the next steps. This is where the “Maine Outdoor Coalition” was formed – a coalition of groups who collaborate on a number of projects and efforts intended to increase the connection between people and nature.
An early success of this overall progress was The Great Maine Outdoor Weekend. A coalition action group organized and promoted the first Great Maine Outdoor Weekend in March 2012. Since then, the, 3 more Great Maine Outdoor Weekends have been held across the State! This project has continued to gain momentum and many more GMOW events are planned for the future.
In August of 2012, the Maine Outdoor Coalition formalized a Steering Committee and applied for a grant from the New England Environmental Education Alliance for funds from the EPA to hire a consultant to help develop the structure and governance of the coalition. With the guidance from the consultant, the Maine Outdoor Coalition developed a strategic plan, mission, and vision to guide the organization through its formative years. The foundation for a sustainable and successful future had been laid
With the formalization of the Maine Outdoor Coalition, new resources become available to assist in the mission. Grant funding from US CDC will be used to help generate strategic communications that all MOC member agencies can use to help promote the healthy connection between people and the surrounding natural world. A membership campaign will add to the ranks of the coalition and thereby expand the potential for collective impact. In fact it is the coalition membership, and the potential for its broad and deep state wide representation that holds the most promise for moving this issue forward. Together we all can make a difference.
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