SHERIDAN — When Joey Puettman was a child, playing in the outdoors with friends by the river was a normal activity — without cellphones and gaming systems to entertain him. Many children today are focused on communicating through the cyber world, Puettman said.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently launched a new Inspire a Kid website to encourage children and families to explore the outdoors statewide. The page provides ideas and lists events to encourage engagement with nature and conservation.
“When kids learn the possibilities the outdoors offer, they add those to their activity radar,” WGFD conservation education coordinator Ashley Leonard said in a press release. “So, instead of coming home from school and immediately grabbing a device or watching TV, they might choose to look for cool insects outside or go on a nature scavenger hunt.”
For the fall season, browsers could explore deer and elk migration corridors, learn about the history of wild turkey harvest, find locations for pheasant hunting, watch a video about how to field dress a pheasant or try a pheasant and wild rice recipe.
Puettman, Joey’s Fly Fishing Foundation founder, said the website is easy to navigate and approachable for children. It’s a resource children and parents can use together to plan trips and establish a bond through common interests, he said. There is value in bridging generational gaps through outdoor activities and passing on skills, he said.
Public information specialist Christina Schmidt said many of the goals for the website are a part of her job already, but the site is part of new WGFD initiative to place more emphasis on connecting children with the outdoors — offering a new tool for families to explore. For example, people around the state can share in the recent Bud Love Youth Pheasant hunt, Schmidt said.
The site is a centralized place for families to see statewide events and encourage activities outside of organized events, she said.
Puettman said it has become more challenging to engage children and adults with nature because many are consumed with an online world. But hunting and fishing video games can’t replace the real outdoor experience, he said.
Schmidt said many statewide organizations focus on youth outdoor activities and the site represents a starting point for a joint effort toward increased youth engagement. By planting a seed of interest in wildlife and outdoor activities, Schmidt said she would like to see youth continue those activities in adulthood or take an interest in natural resources and wildlife-related jobs.
Nature is healing, Puettman said. While children can’t be forced to go outside and play, the website provides a resource and opportunity for families to choose to pursue a different connection besides an internet connection, he said.
“It’s about discovery,” Puettman said. “You know, discover something about yourself that you might tap into and you might like. I always say, it’s a source — whatever your source might be. It might be working on cars, it might be fishing, it might be hunting, it might be music…but the outdoors, there’s so many sources to tap into.”
Schmidt said Wyoming youth don’t have to travel far to see amazing things. They can step outside, within city limits, and witness a variety of birds and other wildlife — an opportunity Schmidt didn’t have growing up in a city.
Many children in Sheridan and around Wyoming have opportunities that other American youth don’t have access to, she said. Apart from educating youth about the benefit of engaging with the outdoors, it’s important to bring parents on board to encourage interest at home, Schmidt said. Parents, teachers and mentors can take the initiative to share skills and resources for outdoor exploration.