Berwyn: Getting kids outside will certainly pay off |

Berwyn: Getting kids outside will certainly pay off

summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado

Colorado Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien didn’t mince any words when she visited Silverthorne last week to promote more outdoor activities for the state’s youth.

According to one of the more frightening statistics quoted at the conference, some of the youngsters of today may actually end up living shorter lives than their parents, based on the rate of childhood obesity and related diseases.

That alone should be enough to motivate parents to get their kids off the couch and into the great outside, whether it’s for croquet or rock climbing. There are so many other good reasons, including studies showing that students who are active outside on a regular basis get better grades in school. In general, fostering a healthy lifestyle could be a critical factor in containing health care costs, O’Brien said.

All those factors combined rise to the level of requiring a concerted effort on the part of all the stakeholders, especially parents and schools. The situation is urgent enough that the state will make it a priority to develop a policy to get kids outside. O’Brien and other speakers acknowledged that it will require a systematic cultural change to meet the goals.

There are plenty of figures out there about exactly how much time kids are spending on their computers, video games, TV and cell phones these days, no need to regurgitate statistics. I know from my own experience how strong the lure is. Just a couple of days ago, I spent an entire evening playing the new Beatles Rockband with a couple of 11-year-olds. Great fun, but not exactly a ton of exercise.

But my son at least had spent the morning outside playing soccer. There’s no lack of outdoor time in his life at all, I discovered as I browsed through my photo library to search for a picture to go with the story. Camping, fishing, climbing, hiking skiing – it’s all there, and we do these things on a regular basis.

Most recently, we camped under the stars at Shrine Pass for two nights to watch the Perseid meteor showers. The second night, we didn’t even crawl in the tent, but fell asleep on our mattresses watching smoky fireballs streak through the Milky Way. Earlier this summer, we pitched camp near Wheeler Lakes and rode out a brawling thunderstorm that spit lightning, rain and hail against our tent walls. The exhilaration in my son’s voice was clear as he answered each peal of thunder with a yell of his own.

The photo hunt just made me realize how much we take it for granted. Another speaker at the Silverthorne Pavilion made me think long and hard about how inaccessible these experiences are for many Colorado kids the same age as Dylan.

Rob Moreno, an activist who advocates for more Latino participation in snowsports, pointed out that there are millions of kids who grow up within 60 miles of the Continental Divide, but they never get a chance to hike a High Country trail or ski down a powder-filled slope. The prime factors are economic and demographic. There is a significant portion of the state’s population that simply can’t afford to play very often, much less make the trip to the mountains.

I buy into the cost argument to a certain degree, but our short-distance camping trips this summer didn’t cost us an arm and a leg. Of course, we already had all the gear we needed to stay safe and dry, but even so, I think it’s a question of priorities as much as it is money for many people. Let’s face it, there’s just a huge chunk of the population that’s not interested in being outside, for whatever reason.

State policy makers will have a tough time when it comes to motivating some of the most dedicated couch potatoes, and I’m not sure that legislating will address the issue in a meaningful way. But I think the leaders of the movement are on the right track when they suggest working with schools to spur interest among school-age youth. Their parents may be a lost cause, but but what youngster wouldn’t want to camp out, climb a tree and dig for worms to catch a fish?

This is the area where the state can have some influence by tweaking school requirements to include outdoor and environmental literacy, and it sounds like O’Brien is thinking along those lines.

Getting every school-age child (kindergarten through high school) in the state outside for at least one week of every school year may seem like a dream right now, especially in tough times, but it could be critical for our children. Their lives may depend on it.

More information can be found at

Bob Berwyn has been reporting from Summit County since 1996 and gets himself and his son outside as much as he can.

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