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Nature summit brings together millennials

Participants in the OWN It Summit discuss ideas to attract millennials to the outdoors at Irvine Nature Center Oct. 25.
Participants in the OWN It Summit discuss ideas to attract millennials to the outdoors at Irvine Nature Center Oct. 25. (Photo by Jacob deNobel , Carroll County Times)

Eight young adults from the Baltimore area pitched ideas to encourage their generation to appreciate the outdoors at Owing Mills' Irvine Nature Center, Oct. 26.
These participants, ranging in age from 16 to 23, were taking part in the first Maryland OWN It Summit, a gathering of millennials interested in promoting outdoor activity among their generation.
The summit was sponsored by Outdoor Nation, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting young adults with nature. The organization holds OWN It Summits across the nation. Beth Lacey Gill, director of marketing at the nature center, said Outdoor Nation would provide the group with a $750 grant to launch whatever idea the participants at the summit developed.
"The biggest drawback with reaching this group is their heavy reliance on technology," Gill said. "They've grown up without nature, and technology has just become a constant part of their world. We want them to put down that phone or their Xbox, stop Instagramming and just appreciate nature for what it is."
Despite the intention to separate young adults from technology, the event was brought about through the use of social media.
"Irvine has an active Twitter account and Outdoor Nation actually retweeted one of our tweets, so I went looking into who this group was," Gill said. "When I discovered they did these summits, I contacted them to get it on it."
The daylong event began with group introductions and a discussion of the environmental issues facing the millennial generation.
Ryan Allen, a 23-year-old student at Towson University, said the discussion focused on two major challenges - raising awareness of environmental issues and providing incentive to encourage people to get outdoors.
"It's much different to actually get people who want to talk about the environment, rather than people who are just doing it for a grade," Allen said. "You can tell who the people who really like it are and the people who do it just because it's a requirement."
Maddalena Blondell, a 17-year-old employee at Blue Water Baltimore, said her interest in the outdoors developed over the past several years, and it's been exciting to discuss her new passion.
"It's been really amazing. You don't get that many opportunities to talk about environmental issues with people," Blondell said. "Even at school, I take an environmental science class, and it's not as engaging as having intimate conversations with people."
Following the opening discussion, participants pitched ideas for a program to encourage interest in the outdoors. Ideas proposed included a beer festival, a disconnection day, where participants are sponsored to abandon technology, outdoor gym classes and educational opportunities. The participants debated the merits of each idea, narrowing down the field to three ideas to be voted on over lunch.
By the end of the day, participants had chosen to put together a film and food festival on the grounds of Irvine Nature Center. Gill said the group agreed that when they were younger, movies were one of the things that influenced their passions the most. The plan is to hold an outdoor film festival of environmentally conscious films to raise awareness of environmental issues and feature free locally-grown food as an incentive to participate.
Each member of the summit agreed to participate and help coordinate the event, tentatively planned for spring. The event will be funded with the $750 grant from Outdoor Nation, and Gill said there is a possibility for additional funding from Irvine Nature Center.
"I was so impressed with how talented and how gung-ho they all have been," Gill said. "They all said that they're looking forward to coming back to the summit next year, and hopefully kicking this festival off as an annual event."

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