Opportunities to explore nature and wellbeing through kayaking for inner-city youth

Opportunities to explore nature and wellbeing through kayaking for inner-city youth
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   European Journal of Ecopsychology 2: 77-85 (2011)  PRACTICE Opportunities to explore nature and wellbeing through kayakingfor inner-city youth Daniel R. Tardona Timucuan Ecological & is!oric "reser#e$ni!e% !a!es 'a!ional "ar er#ice Introduction The Health and Recreation Committee of the United States National Park System (NPS) recommended that the agency undertake  !ilot !ro"ects in #$$ to determine ho% the NPS could effecti&ely im!lement key o'"ecti&es of a Healthier US nitiati&e focused on the health 'enefits of !hysical recreational acti&ity in national !arks. ne of the  !ilot !ro"ect !arks %as the Timucuan *cological and Historic Preser&e (T*HP) in +ackson&ille, -lorida. -or a com!lete o&er&ie% and synthesis of findings of the #$$ !ilot !ro"ects !lease see Hoehner et al. (#$$). n su'se/uent years (#$$0 through #$$) the T*HP !rogram continued %ith additional em!hasis on !ro&iding o!!ortunities for !rogram !artici!ants to e1!erience the %onder and a!!reciation of nature as %ell as disco&er the eco!sychological 'enefits of nature associated %ith a marsh and near2shore coastal en&ironment. The T*HP is located entirely %ithin the city of +ackson&ille, -lorida. 3ike many ur'an en&ironments, +ackson&ille contains an undeser&ed ur'an and economically disad&antaged community. 4ll cultural and natural history resources %ithin T*HP are influenced 'y %ater. f the 56,$$$ acres contained %ithin T*HP, a!!ro1imately 7$,$$$ acres are coastal %etlands created 'y the mi1ing of fresh %ater of the St. +ohns Ri&er and the salt %ater of the 4tlantic cean. The 'est %ay to make contact %ith marshland and near2shore nature %ithin the T*HP is shallo% draft, non2motori8ed %atercraft such as kayaking. 9hile many land 'ased sites %ithin T*HP are accessi'le to mem'ers of the local community, the %etland and coastal en&ironment access is se&erely limited to economically disad&antaged   Tar%ona ppor!uni!ies !o e*plore na!ure an% +ell,eing inner2city youth 'ecause of cost and trans!ortation. *thnic minorities are less likely to !artici!ate in outdoor recreation or &alue go&ernment in&ol&ement in the !ro&ision of such ser&ices (e.g., Ho et al., #$$:; Sasidharan, 9illits, < =od'ey, #$$:). The le&el of T*HP &isitation and es!ecially kayaking %as e1!ected to 'e &ery lo% in this target audience (Shine%, -loyd, >c=uire < Noe, ??6; 9olch <  @hang, #$$5; -loyd et al., #$$0). Humans ha&e increasingly disengaged from the natural en&ironment %ith an enormous shift a%ay from rural areas into more ur'an en&ironments (41elrod < Suedfeld, ??:; Aeck < Batcher, ??6; Batcher < Aeck, ?0). Research is indicating that e1!osure and e1!eriences in nature can im!ro&e %ell'eing and can hel! relie&e stress (Ba!lan < Ba!lan, ??$, ?0?; Ulrich et al., ??; Hartig,  >ang < *&ans, ??; Ba!lan, ??#, ??:, #$$; 3e%is, ??6; Her8og < Ste&ey,  #$$0). Peo!le %ho go to !arks, %ilderness areas and ri&ers &isit for many different reasons (>anning, ???). -or e1am!le, !eo!le float ri&ers to &ie% scenery, find !eace and calm, learn ne% things, de&elo! skills, esca!e cro%ds, e1ercise, and to 'e alone (Bno!f < 3ime, ?05). Research focused on the relationshi! 'et%een ethnicity and !artici!ation in &arious outdoor nature 'ased recreational acti&ities %ith regard to the !hysical health 'enefits ha&e 'een carried out (for e1am!le Aass, *%ert < Cha&e8, ??7; Carr <  9illiams, ??7; +ohnson, Horan < Pe!!er, ??; -loyd, ??0; -loyd, >c=uire,  Shine% < Noe, ??5; -loyd < =ramman, ??7; -loyd, =ramman < Saen8, ??7; 3oukaitou2Sideris, ??:; Phili!!, ??0; Shaull < =ramman, ??0; 9olch <  @hang, #$$5). -e% if any studies ha&e focused s!ecifically on the inter!lay of outdoor !hysical acti&ity and the eco!sychological 'enefits of %ater2'ased recreational acti&ities %ith under2ser&ed ur'an youth. n general lo%er rates of !artici!ation 'y some minority grou!s are attri'uted 'oth to limited economic resources and to differences in norms, &alue systems, and sociali8ation !atterns (-loyd < =ramann, ??7). 4 !articularly im!ortant segment of this target community is young children and teens 'elonging to ethnic minorities. t is this segment of the under2ser&ed ur'an and economically disad&antaged community that is most needy of nature2'ased outdoor recreational o!!ortunities that not only encourage outdoor !hysical acti&ity 'ut e1!osure to the eco!sychological 'enefits of the coastal %ater 'ased natural en&ironment. Ur'an en&ironments, es!ecially for those economically disad&antaged can 'e /uite stressful. t is not sur!rising that 0  Tar%ona ppor!uni!ies !o e*plore na!ure an% +ell,eing antisocial 'eha&ior is a common reaction to stressful situations and s!ending time in nature or &ie%ing nature a!!ears to reduce stress and may influence the reduction of aggression and &iolence (Ba!lan, ??:). 4 gro%ing 'ody of research suggests that contact %ith nature not only !ositi&ely affect 'lood !ressure and cholesterol 'ut also im!ro&e life outlook, and reduce stress and 'eha&ioral !ro'lems among children (>oore, ?0; Ba!lan < Ba!lan, ?0?; Ulrich et al.,  ??; Ba!lan, ??7; -rumkin, #$$). 4 !articularly im!ortant segment of the +ackson&ille, -lorida community is young children and teens 'elonging to ethnic minorities (!rimarily 4frican 4merican). t is this segment of the under2ser&ed ur'an and economically disad&antaged community that !resent %ith the greatest need for recreational o!!ortunities that !romote !hysical acti&ity and recreation and e1!osure and e1!erience %ith the natural %orld. The TEHP Inner-City Youth ayaking Progra! The T*HP inter&ention strategy in&ol&ed de&elo!ing and esta'lishing a !rogrammed ranger guided %ater2'ased nature acti&ity for inner2city economically disad&antaged youth in +ackson&ille, -lorida. The !rogram !ro&ided 'asic skills and e1!eriences for safe kayaking in the !reser&e %aters. The !rogram %as designed to !romote confidence in a %ater 'ased outdoor acti&ity %hile offering access and e1!osure to the natural history of marsh and near2shore en&ironments only accessi'le 'y %ater.The !rogram engaged #? children ranging in ages ?2 %ith a mean age of #.# years, in the summers of #$$: through #$$. 4ll of the children %ere 4frican 4merican and li&e in su'sidi8ed housing communities. Rangers %orking the !rogram estimated that a!!ro1imately 6: children had ne&er seen the ocean and $$ ne&er &isited the Timucuan Preser&e. *ach grou! 6 to $ children e1!erienced a single si1 hour day that included 'asic %ater safety, ho% to %ear a life "acket !ro!erly, use a kayak !addle, use of a safety %histle, ho% to enter and e1it a kayak, and ho% to get a kayak to mo&e safely through the %ater to get from one !lace to the other. The !artici!ants %ere !aired using the E'uddyF system. The lead ranger e1!lained to the grou! the each 'uddy %as to maintain close !ro1imity to the other, check each other for safety and to alert one of the rangers to any difficulties either child might encounter. t %as stressed that all !artici!ants in the !rogram %ere to take care of each other. ?  Tar%ona ppor!uni!ies !o e*plore na!ure an% +ell,eing 4fter a'out an hour of !ractice, a healthy lunch and hydration %ith %ater, a three hour guided kayaking tri! on the %aters of the T*HP %as accom!lished. The tri! consisted of !addling through marshland, then through o!en %ater to a near2shore sand 'ar. The children e1!erienced a &ariety of marshland &egetation and 'irdlife. n the more o!en %aters they o'ser&ed oyster reefs, fish and occasionally a dol!hin or manatee. 4t the sand'ar the !artici!ants o'ser&ed scurrying cra's, roosting shore'irds and a !lethora of sand'ar in&erte'rates. The &isits %ere al%ays done %ith a!!ro!riate inter!retation 'y rangers %ith an em!hasis on lea&ing little human trace in as least distur'ing %ay as !ossi'le. The children then s!ent time s%imming (%ith life "ackets on) and e1!loring the %onder and sim!le 'eauty nature has to offer 'efore returning to their 'oats for the return tri!. 4t the conclusion of the tri! the !artici!ants %ere encouraged to re!ort their disco&eries and reflect u!on the dayGs acti&ities. This acti&ity %as conducted or monitored 'y a !ark ranger %ith ad&anced degrees in !sychology %ith en&ironmentaleco!sychological interests. Progra! obser"ations# challenges and lessons learned Contrary to our e1!ectations and the fact that 5# of the !artici!ants re!orted not 'eing a'le to s%im, all of the !artici!ants %ithout fail, took an immediate interest in the %ater and the kayaks once they arri&ed at the site. No !artici!ants resisted getting in the kayaks and !addling after training. Prior to the training and the tri! e1!erience, #0 of !artici!ants e1!ressed that the !ros!ect of !addling a kayak as e1citing (&s. 'oring) for them, %hile #5 e1!ressed that the !ros!ect of !addling a kayak as scary (&s. not scary). Some !artici!ants stayed close to shore initially; ho%e&er, e&ery !artici!ant e&entually !addled %ith the grou!. 4ll the children %ere o'ser&ed to !ay close attention to instructions, consistently hel!ed each other get into the 'oats, reminded each other to sto% gear, drink %ater, secure their !addle or assisted others %hen they 'ecame stuck in shallo% %ater. Rangers re!orted that many of the children a!!eared a%ed and mo&ed 'y the e1!osure to 'eing a'le to kayak and e1!erience the %ater en&ironment. 4ll the !artici!ants e1!ressed a desire to !artici!ate in similar %ater and nature 'ased acti&ities in the !reser&e and re!orted that kayaking %as neither 'oring nor scary at the conclusion of the day.t should 'e noted that male !artici!ants greatly outnum'ered female !artici!ants (only  %ere girls). 9e offered the !rogram to all children regardless of se1, 'ut 0$  Tar%ona ppor!uni!ies !o e*plore na!ure an% +ell,eing did not acti&ely attem!t to recruit 'oys or girls. No o'&ious differences in 'eha&ior 'et%een 'oys and girls in the !rogram %ere o'ser&ed %ith the e1ce!tion of occasional flirting and minor teasing, 'ut nothing disru!ti&e to the o&erall !rogram e1!erience %as noted. The enthusiasm a'out their e1!eriences of the day and confidence in kayaking e1!ressed 'y the female !artici!ants did not a!!ear any different from the 'oys. t %ould 'e im!ortant in future !rograms and research to e1amine %hy more 'oys than girls in this !o!ulation !artici!ate. Systematic o'ser&ations of 'eha&ior %ith regard to gender should also 'e carried out throughout the !rogram. n general, all !artici!ants in this !rogram %ere o!en to sharing any a!!rehensions they may ha&e had and %ere enthusiastic a'out the challenges of kayaking and e1!eriencing the natural en&ironment. 9hile no systematic sur&ey %as conducted %ith !artici!ants at the conclusion of the !rogram, 'ased on o'ser&ed 'eha&ior 'y ranger staff and self2re!orts of the !artici!ants, the children en"oyed the acti&ities, gained confidence in a %ater2'ased recreational acti&ity, and gained an a!!reciation for the coastal natural en&ironment. n addition, letters %ere recei&ed from many of the children e1!ressing ho% much the !rogrammed %as en"oyed. Rangers also re!orted s!ontaneous e1!ressions throughout the !rogram such as EcoolF, Ea%esomeF, tightF, Emakes me feel calmF, Emakes me feel 'ra&eF, and E feel goodF.The scheduling of the !rograms %as limited 'y the tides and the necessity of a&oiding %eekend days (due to high motor'oat and "et2ski traffic). This constrained the timing of our !rogramming and greatly reduced o!!ortunities for fle1i'le rescheduling. 4s a result, %hen ha8ardous %eather !resented itself, the !rogram %as cancelled and rescheduled %hich affected ho% many !rogram could 'e offered o&er the summer months. 4!!ro1imately $ of the !rograms had to 'e rescheduled due to %eather conditions. t %as im!erati&e to !romote the !rogram at local community centers and through church grou!s. To this end, %e conducted on2land kayak demonstrations in the housing community centers. -unding n addition, %e forged good relationshi!s %ith the community center directors and staff %ho acti&ely !artici!ated in the !rogram themsel&es %ho then !assed on their !ositi&e e1!eriences to the community at large.>ost of the children re!orted that they %ould en"oy returning to the !ark and kayaking 'ut that trans!ortation to the !ark %ould ha&e to 'e !ro&ided for them. 0
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