When I asked my 6-year-old son Mace what he wanted to do for fun Sunday afternoon, he said he wanted to go to the Children’s Museum.
“We’ll save that one for a rainy day,” I said. “It’s a beautiful day and we’re outdoor people.”
I suggested we go fishing, as that’s what I was really hoping to do. Mace likes to fish. He reeled in his first, unassisted, when he wasn’t yet 3. But you just never know what Mace is going to want to do, and on this day it wasn’t fishing.
So I suggested going for a hike in the woods, having two places in mind. Both involved trains, the one thing you an always count on Mace being interested in. Mace reminded me of a third, and asked if we could go to the train bridge, a spot in north Lincoln we found where a little crick runs under the railroad tracks. I wish it was closer to home. When I remember to bring grubby shoes, Mace is free to slosh in the water in search of railroad spikes and any other “clues” he can find to the train wreck that he’s convinced himself occurred there (ask him and he’ll tell you about it). When a train comes barreling down the tracks, we duck under the bridge and feel the earth shake.
I was thinking more on the lines of a hike on the trails along the Stone Creek at Platte River State Park, which lead to the railroad tracks. Of course I had ulterior motives. Throw the fishing poles in and he might change his mind and want to fish for a bit after a hike. We could throw the grill in and cook out for dinner.
But I knew he’d bite on my second suggestion: the search for a real train wreck that occurred in 1894 in what is now Wilderness Park in southwest Lincoln. We’d read about it in the Journal-Star a few months ago. I knew there was little chance we’d find any evidence of the fiery crash that killed 11. But I also knew we’d both have fun hiking along the trails, soaking up nature, letting our imaginations wander and collecting ticks (the final count was only three). So we loaded our bikes in the truck, parked along the Jamaica North Trail, and a short pedal later, Mace became the expedition leader, leading me down the trail through the woods, walking along Salt Creek, stopping to inspect whatever caught his eye, and chasing butterflies through the grass. By the time we got home, he was filthy, which in my mind is perfect.
Mace isn’t into sports right now. Part of me wishes he wanted to play baseball this summer, but part of me hopes he doesn’t ever want to. That will leave more time for hunting, fishing, camping and playing in the crick by the train bridge. I try not to push anything on Mace, but I do push him outdoors. So far, he doesn’t suffer from nature-deficit disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book, “Last Child in the Woods.” Kids are so involved in sports and other organized activities, video games and TV, they don’t spend as much time playing outside as they used to. Louv ties the trend to attention-deficit disorder and childhood obesity, and says it also doesn’t bode well for the future of conservation in America: If youth don’t build an appreciation for nature today, what incentive will they have to protect it when they become the decision makers of tomorrow?
Increasing participation, as well as that appreciation, is a big reason so many of our programs at the Commission are aimed at kids. Project Wild, the Lincoln Safari, The Great Park Pursuit, Youth Skills Camps, Outdoor Expos, Family Fishing Days and others aim to get kids outside and keep them there so when they get older, they will buy hunting, fishing and park permits, which along with matching federal funds, provide 80 percent of the revenue needed to manage fish, wildlife and parks in the state.
Mace likes video games and TV as much as the next kid. But he also loves being outside, whether it’s camping, fishing, tagging along on a goose hunt or simply playing in the back yard. And long as the weather is bearable (even when it’s not you can dress for it), I’m pulling the plug and making sure he’s out there. After all, we’re outdoor people.
See you out there.