Building a Bridge to the Future

Building a Bridge to the Future

When did your love of the outdoors first begin? If you’re anything like me, you don’t remember. Even having grown up in a big city like Los Angeles, California, spending time outside was such a big part of my life that I can’t really say exactly when it all started. My parents made it a priority for me to have regular access to nature through hikes in local parks and camping trips to nearby wilderness areas. From a very young age my life included many opportunities for me to learn and play in the outdoors. Those early experiences informed the course of my life so that today outdoor recreation and environmental conservation are both my passion and my profession.

As a writer and storyteller I try to share my love the outdoors with those who read my words. In my adopted community of Madison, Wisconsin I aim to do all that I can to provide some of the same experiences I had growing up with the young people who live around me. With no children of my own I work in service to the natural environment so that it can be preserved and protected for future generations. That’s why I serve on the board of directors at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center. At this experiential learning facility in the nearby town of Monona, we offer a natural space with trees, grass, water and wildlife where kids can learn and play in the outdoors, just as I did. It’s my hope that by providing experiences for children in nature today we can assure the health and integrity of the environment for tomorrow. And at the same time we can provide a safe place where young people can grow up to become healthy well-adjusted adults.

“Nature gave me a place that was always safe. Sure, you can get stung by a bee or a splinter. But nature never hurts you with intention,” said Althea Bernstein, a former student and a junior naturalist at the ALNC. “ Nature gave me a place to be safe. And to be vulnerable. It helped me meditate and listen and look and smell and feel”.


Althea is my favorite example of how the natural world can have a positive impact on the life of a child. From a very young age she regularly visited the ALNC with her family and became involved in our learning community through several programs that included both environmental science and outdoor camping skills. But her relationship with nature also helped her to survive and heal from traumatic episodes of sexual abuse that compromised her sense of self-confidence and personal security.

“Nature ALWAYS gives you a home and nature does not judge you for mistakes,” she told me. “It welcomes everyone. It gave me a safe way to cope.”

Now a college freshman Althea is a capable young adult brimming over with love and compassion for the all the world see. In the time that I’ve known her she has adopted and raised several injured or abused animals including an opossum, a raccoon and a pot belly pig. She’s studying to be paramedic and hopes to use outdoor recreation and experiences in nature as therapeutic tools to treat the mentally disabled and those, like her, who have suffered emotional trauma.

Whenever I wonder why environmental conservation is so important I need only imagine all that nature has brought to the life of this remarkable young woman. Paying forward the lessons of her childhood, Althea is now bringing joy and happiness to the lives of others. Through our work at the ALNC we are making small investments in the lives of young people today to create a better world tomorrow. In this manner of forward thinking we are building a bridge to the future. By instilling an ethos of natural resource protection in the minds of children at an early age we can encourage their values of compassion and stewardship as grownups.

Named for the father of the modern conservation movement and the progenitor of the Land Ethic, the Aldo Leopold Nature Center is a nationally recognized leader in the field of environmental education. Set on 21 acres surrounded by oak savanna and tall grass prairie just a few miles from Downtown Madison, the Monona facility is a beautiful example of urban green space preservation. Established in 1994, the ALNC is an outdoor classroom that today welcomes annually over 60,000 visitors. Nestled between Woodland and Edna Taylor Parks the facility enjoys access to more than 97 acres of hiking trails and wetlands. And now in the final stages of its construction, this site will be the home of an accredited preschool to teach up to 32 children ages 2 to 5 each year.

With a budget of just over $1.5 million the Aldo Leopold Nature Center preschool will open in the fall of 2019. In a capital campaign called the Bridge to the Future my fellow board members and many generous donors in our community have raised the bulk of the funds necessary to welcome our first class of students. As we approach the public offering phase of our efforts we just need a few thousand dollars more to push us up and over our goal. Perhaps you can make a contribution.

Like me , I’m sure that you want to protect our natural environment well into the future. And whether you have children of your own or not I believe that it is important to support and encourage the young people around us, like Althea, to have a direct connection to nature. In the hopes of educating a new generation of environmental stewards that reflect the cultural and socio-economic diversity of the Madison Metropolitan School District, the ALNC Preschool will offer scholarships for 25 percent of the student population. By eliminating the ability to pay as a barrier to access this new facility can help to reduce the disparities of wealth and social status that so often prevent the most vulnerable members of our community from having a positive relationship with the natural world.

For more than a decade I have worked to bridge the divide between those who spend time in nature and those who do not. In an effort to overcome the social schism that I describe as the Adventure Gap, I’ve taken proactive steps to bring these two factions closer together. With a seat on the ALNC Board of Directors I encouraged our administers to create and adopt into our mission a statement of diversity, equity and inclusion, so that now environmental protection means creating a space where everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate. “We believe that diverse communities are healthier -in nature and in society,” the statement declares. “When we are thoughtful about being inclusive in how we engage, educate and empower, we help our community to know that nature is for everyone and is a safe place to learn and explore.”

The Aldo Leopold Nature Center Pre School is an excellent first step toward the creation of a natural world that is accessible to all. Starting from the age of toddlers it is my hope that we can provide a safe and nurturing space that will inspire a new generation of environmental stewards. To make a contribution click here to download a pledge form. If you have questions or require any additional information don’t hesitate to drop me an email at info@joytripproject.com

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