Outdoor Engagement State of Play

July 1, 2019 | How state policies are encouraging the next generation of conservation leaders



NCEL Point of Contact

Dylan McDowell
Executive Director


The benefits of time outside are becoming harder to ignore. A connection between nature and health outcomes has been repeatedly demonstrated and recently inspired cover stories in both Outside and Sierra magazines. Researchers have determined that having more trees in your area is linked to a decrease in Medicare spending per individual. Meanwhile, green schoolyard projects in cities like Oakland and Chicago are transforming blacktop and concrete into nature-rich environments that improve learning while fostering a sense of community. Learn more about outdoor recreation

Many of these efforts have originated at the local level where municipalities and organizations are working to increase outdoor engagement for all communities. As these efforts are replicated across the country, states are finding ways to increase the scale of projects, provide financial support, or increase access in other ways. 

In 2019, several states took steps to increase outdoor engagement.

  • Minnesota implemented a No Child Left Inside grant program to connect disadvantaged children with nature in new ways.
  • Maryland passed a Green Schools Act (SB 662) which, among other things, includes funding to support outdoor field experiences for students.
  • New Mexico joined a growing number of states with an Office of Outdoor Recreation, but with the addition of a novel “outdoor equity fund” (SB 462). The fund includes both public and private funding to support outdoor engagement for low-income youth through grants for equipment staff time, transportation, and more. 

Each of these policies builds on successful efforts and lessons learned from states and cities across the country. This blog series will explore the different ways states are increasing outdoor engagement in four broad categories:

  • Increasing Outdoor Access
  • Outdoor Wellness
  • Education Standards
  • Offices of Outdoor Recreation

Whether states create a grant program to enable outdoor access for low-income youth, designate a specific day in honor of Public Lands, or establish an Office of Outdoor Recreation to raise the profile of this issue, there are countless ways that state legislators are able to help develop future conservation leaders through increased outdoor engagement.