Blending recreation and conservation
By Grace Gaard, Outdoor Educator
When we think of kayaking, we might picture paddling on a waterway, and that’s where it stops. But I always had this feeling that kayaks had more potential than paddling alone. That magic we experience on the water can be hard to put a label on, and the word “conservation” can seem a bit complicated, like something people can’t relate to because it’s so scientific. Recently, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission educators had the opportunity to combine kayaking and conservation. The Fish and Wildlife Education Division dove into getting kayaks, and it has allowed us opportunities to blend ecology, stewardship and recreation in a way that is more accessible.
Beyond Our Expectations
When invited to offer an outdoor education event with Becoming an Outdoors Woman earlier this summer, we used the opportunity to pilot a program that took kayaking to the next level. To start the program, participants gathered in a circle, and our staff threw out the question: “What does conservation mean to you?” The group of women had many thoughtful ideas to share. Conservation is the protection of natural resources and the sustainable ways people can become active participants in their ecosystems. Building on that agreed definition, we then discussed ways we could practice conservation through kayaking.
We touched on proper trash disposal, respecting wildlife, leaving nature where it is and sharing outdoor spaces with other people. Afterward, the group participated in an optional trash cleanup while exploring this aquatic ecosystem by kayak. By the end of the golden hour and a trash-filled evening, each participant discussed what they could do to continue helping this local urban lake. Each person expressed not only wanting to spend more time outside, but also leaving the space better than they found it. Their newfound sense of ownership plus connection to this ecosystem was beyond my expectations for the program.
This program was unlike anything I’ve led before. While we may not have had a large number of participants, we made a big impact. To be able to foster a sense of community and stewardship among strangers through recreation was unique. It was special and has inspired us to consider how we might do more of these programs in the future. It was all the more humbling to learn that one of our participants even went out and purchased her own kayak.
Building on the success of the pilot program, we’ve organized two events, one in Omaha and one in Lincoln. These highly urban areas with lots of litter are just the beginning of what we hope would be a series of many efforts across the state to maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems for wildlife and for people.
On Aug. 18, our education team hosted the first official kayaking clean up at Lake Zorinsky, one of Omaha’s fantastic urban lakes. A group of 16 people, and two dogs, participated, and although many of them were strangers, the group immediately bonded over their love of nature and the effort to leave their lake landscape better than they found it. Our staff were also thrilled to reconnect with two of the women from the pilot program earlier this summer.
The kayakers collected bags of trash and even a traffic cone. At the conclusion of the program, we met up on the shoreline, and the buzz and enthusiasm was apparent — everyone was chattering about “next time we do this.” When asked if they had ever considered collecting trash while out kayaking, most participants responded that they hadn’t thought of it before, but will now incorporate the practice in the future.
Hope for More
With time, we hope this program model will grow toward more imaginative ways to blend together recreation and conservation. And perhaps this story will inspire readers to see kayaking from a new perspective. Next time you hit the water, consider bringing along a bag for trash as you explore. By taking care of the ecosystems that take care of us, we may just find that our favorites forms of recreation can be more rewarding when blended with conservation. There is always room for both.
Before we wrap up paddling for the year, we are offering one more opportunity for people to get out and take action. For those in the Lincoln area, join us for kayaking and cleanup at Holmes Lake on Sept. 13. Visit the Kayaking Cleanup event here to learn more and to sign up!