The Impact of Outdoor Education

472My name is Peter Wilson and I would consider myself a lifelong steward of the environment.  Ever since I was a young child, I spent most of my time outdoors exploring and observing everything I could about the natural world.  In my elementary and middle school years, many of my afternoons were spent wading in the creek and traipsing through the woods until it got too dark to see or my mom would yell for me to come inside.  Armed with tall rubber boots and a net, I would walk the creek in search of the tiny organisms that thrived in the cool, running water.  Overturning rocks and making quick sweeps of the net, I would collect whatever creatures I could in an old fish tank I purchased at a flea market.  Once I had a sufficient quantity of baby bluegill sunfish, dace, crayfish, dragonfly larvae and other inhabitants of the stream in my fish tank, I would sit and observe them, occasionally changing out the water.  By the end of the evening, all the guests in my tank would be returned safely to the stream.  When I collected these creatures, and lay on the grass to observe their movements, colors, and behaviors in the tank, I imagined that I was Steve Irwin, or Jeff Corwin, my heroes on Animal Planet and Discovery Channel.  While the wildlife I caught and observed was not nearly as exotic, impressive, or dangerous as the pit vipers, crocodiles, pythons, and monitors that my TV mentors dealt with in each episode, I found myself equally fascinated.

As I grew older, my fascination with wildlife and the outdoors never faded.  I was still in awe (and maybe a bit jealous) of the adventures that Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin had enjoyed so much, but also began to realize the impact that their work had on not only myself, but the world around me.  Their passion for the outdoors and the natural world had driven them to create TV shows where they could enthusiastically and openly express their fascinations with nature while spreading that joy and knowledge to others.  I realized that I found the same joy in sharing information about nature as I did in learning about it when I was named the director of the outdoor education program at the summer camp I have attended and worked at for many years.  I found that the more the boys I was teaching learned, the more they began to care about the natural world around them.  The boys who peeled the bark off birch trees or squished fireflies had newfound respect for the woods they followed me through on our wildflower identification walks, the lake they swam in every day, and the birds whose calls woke them up every morning.  On a small scale, I felt like Steve Irwin or Jeff Corwin, the outdoor educators who I admired so much when I was younger.  I wasn’t hosting TV shows, but I was showing young people the wonders of the outdoors and hopefully inspiring a lifelong passion for the natural world in someone along the way.

It is my hope that in some facet I can instill admiration for the environment in people while continuing to educate myself for many years to come.  I firmly believe that a respect for the natural world comes from knowledge.  I am thrilled to be working with Trees Greenville as their Community Forester Fellow through the Shi Center for Sustainability at Furman University because I know that I can help spread knowledge about the trees around Greenville County. It is possible that humanity has never been more disconnected with the environment than it is today, and it is certainly true that the environment has never been taxed so heavily by human activity. By teaching people about the outdoors, I would hope that I could connect people with the natural world in a more meaningful way and help to perpetuate respect and passion for the environment.

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