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Recaptivating youth interest in outdoors

March 8, 2017
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

I spent a majority of the past week skiing through the local woods, where I found snow conditions ranging from bare ground to bulletproof, with a few pockets of crust and dust and just a hint of fresh powder.

Although I'd like to get in one last ski trip this season, the current weather pattern has taken on a decidedly spring-like feel.

If I do have an opportunity to get out, it will likely be the last ski trip since the local rivers and streams have already begun to shed winter's white cap. It also appears local lakes and ponds are poised for an early ice-out.

Article Photos

Fishermen huddle around their pop-up shanty during last week’s Lake Colby Classic on Lake Colby in Saranac Lake.
Photo — Joe Hackett

At this rate, anglers may be on the ponds for the opening day of trout season on April 1. Although ice-out rarely arrives prior to the middle of May, the ice cover on local waters is already suspect. It's been another strange season and the April 1 season opener is a long way off.

While there was enough ice to host another successful Colby Classic last weekend, the turnout was light. I actually spent a fair portion of Sunday afternoon skating around the lake, speaking with anglers and enjoying the sunny day. It was far better than the opening day of the event, which saw high winds and below zero temperatures.

I left the ice with some good stories, a few photos and my first sunburn of the new year.

Even though the fish were "not on the bite" Sunday, I was encouraged by the number of kids who were still out on the ice.

I was also surprised to find there was only a single traditional "wood" fish shanty on the entire lake. I suppose it was difficult for anglers to haul the heavier, wooden shanties out on the lake, due to the rather shaky ice conditions. Although ATVs and snowmobiles were scattered about the lake, there were no trucks or cars on the ice.

Despite the lack of traditional fishing shanties, there were plenty of pop-up shanties on the ice. I visited a few pop-up shanties that were decked out with space heaters, propane grills, generators, lights, bunks and even a TV or two. However, due to the deep freeze on the first day of the derby, very few shanties were occupied overnight.


Last American in the woods

Last week's column detailed a government study that estimates the average American now spends 90 percent of their life indoors, which is further evidence of an increasing trend toward indoor recreation.

It's likely as they grow older, these same people will be even more inclined to avoid venturing outside. We may actually be the last generation to utilize the outdoors in a traditional manner on a regular basis.

This is a trend that was first brought to light by author Richard Louv in his bestseller, Last Child in the Woods. Although the book has spawned a worldwide system of child and nature networks, the problem continues unabated. This organization continues to focus efforts on promoting the benefits of getting children involved in the outdoors. It has struck a chord with kids and their parents as well.

Of course the issue of climate change has also focused attention on the need to reconnect today's children with nature, since they will likely be the first generation to deal with the most pronounced effects of climate change.

Last week's column also spawned a number of phone calls, a few emails and I even received a handwritten note from a young angler who provided a drawing of a fish he caught that was "bigger than my Dad's."

I was surprised by how many parents complained about the difficulties they have experienced in getting their kids to go outdoors.

I also received a nasty-gram from a disgruntled teen who wondered if I actually send smoke signals instead of emails.

"Why should we go outside?" he asked. "There's nothing to do out there! Oh, maybe (we) can build a snowman? Yea, right."

I believe the best way to get kids out is to join them. Lead by example. If it appears that you're enjoying yourself, they'll want to join in. But it has to be fun on their level.

Although there are all sorts of electronic contraptions for kids nowadays, with headsets that allow them to escape into a 3D, virtual world, I'm thrilled to know the most popular toy in the world is still just a simple stick. It can be a wand, a missle, a sword or a spear, and it doesn't even require electricity. It operates on an old-fashioned kind of energy that was once known as an "imagination." Every kid is born with one, but it appears only a few kids know how to use it.


What are kids up to now?

A recent national survey commissioned by the Outdoor Industry Council has determined the most popular outdoor activities in the US are primarily non-competitive in nature. The top five activities among ages 6 to 18, based on overall participation rate are:

1. Running, jogging and trail running - 24.2 percent of youth

2. Bicycling (road, mountain and BMX) - 20.6 percent

3. Camping (car, backyard or RV) - 18.2 percent

4. Fishing (fresh, salt and fly) - 18.0 percent

5. Hiking - 13.1 percent



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