Balance Madison

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Now that we’re well into the New Year most everyone I meet seems to ask me the same question: “What are you working on next?” I suppose that with that question comes the expectation of something more exciting than they might have previously imagined. After a 12-month tour filled with adventures from one end of the country to the other including a short detour through the national parks of Tanzania and a visit to White House I’m fairly certain that 2015 will be tough to beat. But rather than attempting to pack my schedule with more travel in 2016 I’m devoting significantly more of my attention to adventures closer to home.

My book The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors has enjoyed a modest ration of national success with several speaking engagements across the country. Also featured in the documentary film I co-produced called An American Ascent the events surrounding the first team of African-American climbers to attempt a summit of the highest peak in North America, a mountain in Alaska now officially known as Denali, helped to frame a discussion on the critical issue of diversity in outdoor recreation and environmental conservation. After a year of public appearances and reporting projects on college campuses and wilderness areas throughout the United States I managed to connect with several communities eager to help their citizens create active lifestyles and to establish a relationship with the natural world through experiential education. Though I might be considered by some to be an expert on how to make the outdoors more culturally relevant to under represented segments of our population, in particular racial minorities and people of color, I believe it is time to time to put a bit of what I have learned into practice. In 2016 I aim to explore how a city, like Madison Wisconsin, might create a balanced community dedicated to environmental protection that is more inclusive, sustainable and resilient.

It should be said that I am not a social worker, a political activist or even an educator. By profession I am a journalist, a storyteller. I aim to dedicate the next year of my professional life to reporting on the many initiatives that are currently in progress or under development where I make my home in the city of Madison. In my own backyard and throughout the surrounding communities of Dane County I will explore the many programs that aim to encourage people across the social spectrum to lead healthy lifestyles, conserve energy, protect the natural environment and create equitable opportunities for personal growth. It is my hope that by telling their stories I can document the progress of these noble efforts, reveal points of engagements where people can get involved and establish an enduring standard of best practices that can be replicated in other communities across the country and around the world.

Madison is a unique city that has virtually everything that America has to offer. We enjoy a four season climate with a wide variety of outdoor recreation options. Beautifully maintain parks, lakes, trout streams and bike paths inspire the interests of enthusiasts who indulge their passions for cycling, paddling, skiing and fishing. As the birthplace of Aldo Leopold, John Muir and Gaylord Nelson Wisconsin has a long history and legacy of environmental stewardship. The local economy is a thriving combination of high tech corporations, blue-collar manufacturing, state government, agriculture, philanthropy and university research. Dane County and Madison in particular  represent a socio-cultural environment with all of the elements of natural and economic resources that can assure the success of just about anyone.

But despite all of this Wisconsin also has the highest rate of African-American incarceration in the country. Like many major cities in the U.S. people of color in Madison experience poverty, unemployment, homelessness and food insecurity with much higher frequency than their white counterparts. If these issues are not addressed as part of a comprehensive strategy to improve the health and wellbeing all citizens in our community any efforts toward environmental conservation would prove utterly irrelevant. And as there are many local organizations working to achieve more positive life experience outcomes for the people of Madison I intend to do all that I can to report on these efforts and encourage members of the community to help in any way that they can.

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Much of this reporting will be a continuation of the project that I had begun working on with Madison Gas & Electric called the New Green Challenge. To be reintroduced in 2016 as a web site called Balance Madison this online platform will be a central place in our community where local residents and visitors can find information and recourses on how to live more sustainably. Working in cooperation with area partners that include Sustain Dane, the Center For Resilient Cities, the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and the Badger/Rock Neighborhood Community Center, I aim to tell the story of how public and private institutions and individuals can work together to educate a new generation of young people to become stewards of their environment while proactively working to engage their parents and peers in activities that are culturally relevant to their experience and priorities as citizens.

Thought the next several months the Joy Trip Project will produce a series of profile features of individuals, events and institutions in the community doing the work of sustainable living. Along with online photo albums and occasional videos I will tell the story of Madison as a resilient city in words and pictures. Through 2016 the primary focus of my reporting efforts will be directed toward a new collaboration between Badger/Rock Middle School and the Aldo Leopold Nature Center. In conjunction with a year-long curriculum devoted to environmental diversity and community engagement this partnership promises to provide a wonderful point of synergy where the interests of education and stewardship intersect. By making direct connections between the students’ lessons and the practical experience they will receive through real-world interactions with the natural settings in their community I hope to illustrate a very clear pathway toward not only positive lifestyle choices but also worthwhile and rewarding career opportunities.

2016 will certainly include some degree of travel. I am pleased to say that I have a solid speaking schedule through much of the winter and spring and into the summer. But much of what I hope to share in my talks and lectures are ways in which people can achieve practical change in their communities to make outdoor recreation and environmental conservation more accessible to each of its members. Through this very compelling narrative I believe that the many organizations and initiatives that I cover will be able to enjoy the collective energy of the Madison sustainable living community as a whole. I hope to encourage each of these programs to pool their resources, eliminate redundant efforts and focus on their core competencies. I intend to lead a discussion that will help the different agencies in Dane County to identify better ways to connect with the communities they serve so that we might all create a more balanced Madison.

 

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Author:James

I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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