Expert offers tips for engaging youth on land

posted Feb. 12, 2018 8:04 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Benjamin Wideman, Regional Editor |

  • Taylor and Karlee Nack 021418
    Taylor Nack, left, 8, and her sister, Karlee, 10, held American toads near their family’s rural home.
  • Jamie Nack headshot 021418

SHIOCTON — “Engaging the Next Generation on Your Land” is more than just the title of a recent presentation by Jamie Nack.

It’s a way of life she wholeheartedly embraces.

Jamie and her husband, Bob, recently moved to a 5-acre property in rural Columbia County, where they can share their love of nature and the outdoors with daughters Taylor, 8, and Karlee, 10.

“We come at this not from owning lots of woodlands,” Jamie said, “but we both grew up in the outdoors and it’s really important for us so our children can have similar experiences in nature.

“We’re the parents who have the kids out in the frog pond. A couple of weeks ago we had headlamps on the kids and we were tracking in the fresh snow at night looking at animal tracks. I was outside all the time as a youngster. Our kids really enjoy being outside too.”

Nack is an Extension senior wildlife outreach specialist at UW-Madison’s Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology. Her husband works for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

She recently visited the village of Shiocton in rural Outagamie County, where she offered tips for engaging the next generation on your land to members of the Wolf River Chapter of the Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association.

Nack emphasized that “you have to create a personal connection to that property if you expect that next generation to have feelings — whether it’s your children or your grandchildren. You can’t love or care for it without that personal connection. It’s best to begin at an early age, but it’s never too late to start.”

Some of her tips are derived from The Ties to the Land Initiative (of Oregon State University) and its principle author, Clint Bentz. The initiative provides tools and resources that help woodland owners make the decisions necessary to achieve their objectives and pass their land to succeeding generations.

Here are some suggestions presented by Nack:

Share your passion

• Share stories and photographs about family experiences on the land. “Grandchildren love to hear funny stories,” Nack said.

• Talk frequently with family members about the property, including the history of it, why you own it and your dreams for its future.

• Using video, document older family members talking about the property.

• Name parts of the property or special projects after children or grandchildren, and mark those locations with signs to forge a bond.

Encourage exploration and curiosity

• The increasing disconnect of children from nature is a concern among parents, educators and mental and physical health professionals. Nack said “nature deficit disorder,” a condition identified by Richard Louv in his book “Last Child in The Woods,” has been linked to troubling childhood trends such as the rise in obesity, attention disorders and depression.

• Younger generations are naturally curious, so foster their interest in turning over rocks and logs, following a set of animal tracks or exploring whatever they discover on the property.

• Encourage them to ask questions, and if you don’t know the answers then research them together.

Additional thoughts

• Letting children and grandchildren play in and explore the natural world has proven psychological and cognitive benefits, such as reduced stress, an increase in curiosity, creativity and problem-solving abilities, and improved physical and emotional health.

• Annual events like planting trees and splitting firewood give the younger generation a feel for some of the work needed for the future of the land. Some attention spans can be short, however, so move on to another activity when necessary. And don’t forget to bring snacks.

• Teach them real-world skills. You may be surprised to see how interested children and/​or grandchildren can be when it comes to learning about changing the oil in a tractor, figuring out how to use a compass, or learning how to properly operate a chain saw.

• Engage in recreational activities. Use different parts of the property for camping, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, hunting, bird watching or having a picnic. Show the next generation the fun the property offers. That can also include collecting wild edibles (like morels or syrup) and preparing a special dish.

• Although getting children and grandchildren away from their computers, smartphones and video games for a while is good, don’t hesitate to incorporate technology into your land-based activities. Geocaching expeditions, setting up trail cameras and taking digital photos are a few ideas.

• Coordinate public tours of the land and have family members talk about the different parts of the property.

• Keep a journal of things you and your children and grandchildren see on the property.

And be sure to involve older family members in decision making. “Family members will be more supportive of decisions they have been involved in making,” Nack said, “and it’s a chance for them to learn what is all involved in managing and owning a property.”

Nack said landowners are living longer and remaining active on their lands well into their 70s and 80s, but they may not necessarily be taking steps to engage their children and grandchildren. It’s important, she said, to open up and be inclusive of everyone in the family.

“You never know who is going to have that passion and interest in being involved in the property,” she said.

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