Being from Michigan, I learned at an early age that public lands provide opportunities to discover and play outdoors. I grew up fishing, canoeing and hiking in wild places. My parents took our family on camping trips and we would stand in awe of the breathtaking lakes and forests. As a child, I was a fish – treating inland lakes like my personal swimming pools and refusing to get out until my toes and fingers looked like raisins. Adventuring outdoors came naturally.
As a teenager, I experienced the power of stewardship firsthand. My friends and I volunteered in local forests and riparian areas clearing invasive species, preparing for prescribed burns and picking up litter. Participating in the stewardship of these natural places gave me higher self-esteem and a meaningful resolve. I began to understand that it wasn’t enough to love forests and rivers – I also needed to do my part to take care of them.
During my time studying at Michigan State University, I worked for a summer at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. There, I wrote education curriculum for K-12 students and helped implement a wilderness backpacking trip for teenagers. This grant-funded program provided all equipment, supplies and transportation necessary for a backcountry trip entirely free of cost to participants. This allowed students that wouldn’t otherwise be able to go camping to participate.
That trip, though long and sometimes frustrating as a leader, allowed me to witness the powerful impact that spending time outdoors can have on individuals – especially young girls. Though we had neither showers nor a moment without mosquitos, I saw these girls become empowered to appreciate their strengths and encourage one another.
Maybe forests do even more than we realize. In the past couple years, while working for several conservation organizations, I’ve been captivated by the environmental benefits that forests provide – clean water, improved air quality, carbon sequestration – just to name a few. Unsurprisingly, spending time near nature has been proven to benefit both mental and physical health. Sometimes I think about how much time we, as adults, spend indoors – and how it might be different if we played outside as we did during childhood.
Today I still love to hike, camp, swim, and fish – but I’ve also added birdwatching, storytelling, and volunteerism to my list. I’m thrilled to be working for an organization that values the outdoors just as much as I do. As part of the National Forest Foundation’s communications team, I hope to connect communities to their National Forests and Grasslands. I believe that when we see the benefits public lands provide to both individuals and the environment, we’ll be just as excited to steward these special places as we were to play outside as kids.