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$700K grant to bring nature to kids in Asheville and beyond



8/30/2011 - $700K grant to bring nature to kids in Asheville and beyond
by Karen Chávez - Asheville Citizen Times

GREAT FOR THE KIDS, great for us all here in Western North Carolina!!

 ASHEVILLE -- A $701,000 grant to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation's Kids in Parks program will help kids in Western North Carolina and around the country get off couches, away from video screens and back into parks.

 The program to help children and their families get active and healthy while reconnecting with nature got a huge boost with the grant from from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, which helped launch the program on the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2008 with an initial $204,000 grant.

Kids in Parks has been so successful, it is now going nationwide.

"We were really impressed with the success of the program over the past two years," said Jennifer MacDougall, Healthy Active Communities senior program officer for the BC/BS of NC Foundation.

"The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and partners have really been able to develop an effective strategy to get children and their families outdoors on existing trails. Whether it's national parks, state parks, municipal parks, the program seems to be really effective wherever it goes."

The grant will expand the program into North Carolina's state, county and municipal parks as well as launch a National Technical Training and Resource Center for Kids in Parks over the next three years.

Kids in Parks is a partnership of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the BC/BS of NC Foundation, which work with community partners to help children increase their physical activity, improve nutritional choices and spend more time outdoors.

Kids in Parks reaches out to children with its TRACK Trails (Trails, Ridges and Active, Caring Kids), allowing children and their families to take free, self-guided scavenger hunts.

The first trail was designated along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail near the Parkway Visitor Center in August 2009.

There are now nine TRACK Trails, which use existing trails and resources, including locations in Pisgah National Forest, Chimney Rock State Park, Owen High School and on parkway trails in Virginia. Brochures on each trail guide visitors with different nature topics. The program targets ages 4-10, said Jason Urroz, Kids in Parks program director, but it's open to everyone.

When children complete a trail, they can log on to the Kids in Parks website and answer questions, earning rewards such as bandannas and disc golf equipment for becoming "Trail TRACKers."

Since the first trail opened, 475 children have registered hikes, Urroz said, .

"A Kaiser Family Foundation study (2010) found that kids spend an average of 7.5 hours a day plugged in, watching TV, playing video games, on the computer," Urroz said.

"At the same time, fewer kids are going to parks. You see a link between those numbers. We want to see if we can find a fun way to get kids back to the parks. If you can make a hike fun, then it won't seem like exercise, and they will choose to do it."

The newest TRACK Trail, which will open in two weeks, is in Custer State Park in South Dakota, the first trail to expand Kids in Parks across the country, said Carolyn Ward, CEO of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation.

"When we started in 2008, we had two partners. Now we have 37," Ward said, which includes UNC Asheville's Health and Wellness Center. "We have so many wonderful resources in this community."

The Kids in Parks staff, headquartered on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, will lead webinars or serve as a training resource for parks around the country that want to send staffs to Asheville to see how the program works.

"It took us many thousands of dollars to create this program, but now that it's replicable, it can work at sites thousands of miles away without us setting foot there," she said.



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