In 2006, I was invited to be the close-out speaker at a conference at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The conference theme – Reconnecting People to Nature - was focused on why there has been a rapid decline in people’s interest and participation in nature-oriented activities and what can be done to stem this decline. More than 200 wildlife professionals attended the conference.
My presentation was to focus on how to get children connected to the great outdoors. The hope was that my program would serve as a catalyst to get the attendees motivated enough to take what they learned and make an effort to put the recommendations into action.
I figured this presentation would be an easy one. But I was wrong. This was not going to be an easy task. Why would these adults want to listen to yet another adult espousing how to get folks reconnected to nature? What could I offer that would be new and profound? I had a better idea – why not get the recommendations from someone who could offer a fresh perspective on this issue?
Since my son Carson’s entry into this world, my wife and I took him into nature at every opportunity. From simply having him with us on our hikes to getting him to actively participate in photography, birding, and wildlife watching, we could see that Carson’s analytical skills, imagination, and creativity were growing every day. At age seven, Carson was already an accomplished nature photographer and birder. He had helped band birds, had already won an international nature photography contest, and was very well versed in natural history.
Carson had also accompanied me on many of my programs, serving as my assistant in doing sound checks, decorating the stage, helping me review my programs, and handing out door prizes. Again, all this at the ripe age of seven. He wanted to do more than being an assistant, so I seized the moment to get him engaged in this challenge.
I decided to ask Carson if he would like to speak at the conference. Without hesitation he accepted the offer as long he could have his own name badge. Simple enough.
Weeks before the conference, I crafted a program entitled “My Child in the Woods” that offered my perspective as a father and concluded with recommendations from Carson on how to get his generation and their parents engaged in nature.
I developed my perspective based on my childhood and how I carried my passion for nature into a career as wildlife professional with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and my second career as a nature photographer and writer. For Carson’s part, I interviewed him and asked him a series of questions. Parts III, IV, and V will provide our recommendations as a father and son.