A few days ago I was walking through the Kmart parking lot with my kids.

Yep, I said Kmart…we live in Wyoming and sometimes we shop at Kmart. We’re classy like that.

All of a sudden an old, filthy, greasy McDonalds bag flew our direction and landed on the ground.

My 4-year-old, who hates garbage, bent over to pick up the disgusting bag. I cringed inside. I knew that the second he picked it up he’d hand it over to me for safekeeping until we found a garbage can.

I just hate trash,” he said, looking up at me with those big blue eyes that always melt my heart.

Since it’s Valentines Day I’m thinking about love. How’s that for cliche?

But I’m not thinking about romantic love, or lustful love, or the love you feel when you hold a newborn baby.

I’m thinking about love, and nature. How much I love the outdoors, mountains and trails. How much solace I find in the wilderness.

I’m also thinking about what we can do to instill a love of the outdoors in the next generation.

A few years ago I interviewed David Fanning, who shares his adventures on the website Rawah Ranger. If you’re in Colorado or planning on hiking the Colorado Trail or just like reading a darn good story check out his website. This part of our interview has been stuck in my mind ever since.

“I worry about who is going to care about Wilderness 50 years from now. If anyone, it will be our children, of course. We need to get young people away from their electronic gadgets and into the backcountry now. It is critically important. People protect what they love. It is impossible to love something you don’t experience as real and meaningful in your life. I’d like to see our trails filled with young people, learning to care about what is so vitally important to me.” 

children in nature

I get out on the trails a lot with my kids and if you read this blog, and are a parent, grandparent, or primary caregiver chances are that it’s not uncommon for you to load your car full of snacks, extra clothing and children and head off to the mountains.

But is that enough?

Is wandering down a trail, or splashing in a creek with our children really teaching them to love the outdoors?

Or do we need to do more than that?

With our insanely busy lives can we still give our children those experiences that they need to love and want to protect the backcountry?

Sometimes I feel like my children have moments where I know they feel something in nature that leaves them upset or discouraged. Like when they see carvings in a tree, trash on the trails, or spray paint on a rock. I can feel their emotions and their sadness. But other days they try to leave a trail of goldfish crackers or toss aside a granola bar wrapper and they just don’t seem to get it.

Or so I thought until my kid shoved the greasy McDonalds bag into my hand.

Maybe, just maybe my kids do get it.

And maybe they are smarter than I think because their perception of the outdoors is more than just the mountains and the trails. They see the nature even along the cracked asphalt in the Kmart parking lot, and that’s why the bag needed to go directly into the garbage can.

But perhaps there’s more to it than that.

What if we don’t actually need to teach children to love the outdoors.

What if we were to show them instead?

The presence of the greasy McDonalds bag in the parking lot should have bothered me just the way that litter on a trail bothers me. I shouldn’t have been okay with just walking past it.

I’m still trying to figure out this parenting thing, most of the time I feel like I’m doing it all wrong and I think that’s a normal feeling.

But I will always be thankful for a 4-year-old who taught me a huge lesson about love that day in the Kmart parking lot.

Happy Valentines Day to you, my friends. May it be filled with lots and lots of love, love for the outdoors.

What do YOU think we can do to inspire the next generation to love the outdoors? 

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