I was introduced to hunting and fishing, activities that would forever shape how I felt about the world around me and the importance of conserving wildlife, as a child in upstate New York. I was about 8 years old when I caught my first fish. The catch was small, but I was so excited I decided I had to try for something bigger. I casted the line in and left it sitting for a bit. What I came back to was the kind of fish that stories are written about, an enormous northern pike. I’ll never forget the pride I felt reeling in that big catch, the curiosity of not knowing at the time what was on the end of the line and even the childish fear that I’d lose the battle and get pulled into the water. The fish was so big (it was bigger than me at the time) that the local news came out and took a photo. I was hooked, and today, I enjoy fishing both freshwater and saltwater. At the time of my big childhood catch, fishing was a common skill that was passed down from one generation to the next. Children today are often not as lucky and I worry they will never get the opportunity to experience nature in the ways I did as a youth and as I do as an adult. The number of youth and adults participating in outdoor recreational activities such as fishing and hunting are dwindling with the invention of each new electronic device. The average youth spends 60 hours a week using entertainment media or media multitasking. Youth can identify more than 1,000 corporate logos, but can barely name 10 plants or animals living in their own neighborhood. This is a problem because we know that kids who do not directly engage in outdoor activities are less likely to develop a strong stewardship ethic for conserving America’s wildlife.
This is why now, it is more important than ever to have youth programs such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) kid’s fishing programs and the FWC’s new statewide initiative, the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network (FYCCN). FYCCN is leading the effort to reconnect youth and families with traditional outdoor recreational activities and inspire support for fish and wildlife conservation. FYCCN includes “Wild Outdoors” centers that offer deep-woods experiences, as well as “Near Outdoor” sites, which offer experiences closer to children in their everyday lives. The Wild Outdoors experiences include activities like fishing, canoeing, shooting sports, hiking, camping and deep-woods orienteering. The Near Outdoors experiences may include an urban fishing pond or pier, archery, a local birding competition or a habitat program being taught in the schools, to name a few.
Weedon Island Preserve and Natural History Center on Tampa Bay is an excellent example of a Wild Outdoors center where children learn saltwater fishing and conservation first-hand.
But FYCCN is doing more than providing venues for outdoor opportunities. Through effective partnerships with schools, communities, youth organizations, volunteers, land owners and donors, we “connect the dots” between our partner programs in the Near Outdoors programs and the Wild Outdoors centers to create a network of outdoor enthusiasts who are working together to enrich and expand understanding of conservation and natural Florida. By working together, we are providing the programs, training and resources necessary to reach out to families who are disengaged from outdoor life and activities. With the education and guidance needed to understand and safely engage in outdoor activities, they learn to love the great outdoors and are willing to accept stewardship of our precious outdoor heritage. If parents have an interest in fishing or hunting, they will share that interest with their children.
Interested in helping create the next generation that cares? FYCCN is always in need of business and organizational partners, property owners, volunteers and manufacturers willing to help secure sites, resources, fund-raising support and financial contributions. Visit FYCCN.com to learn more.
Learn more about FWC’s kid’s fishing opportunities by visiting MyFWC.com.
Richard A. Corbett
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