The statistics are staggering. Kids now spend an average of 45 hours each week — more time than their parents spend at work — in front of a computer or television screen.
It’s time to turn off the TV and power down the laptop. It’s time to get back outside and reconnected with nature.
It’s time for Nature Challenge 2011.
Like a family nature hike with a little Amazing Race thrown in, the contest is designed to help families across Texas get reconnected with each other — and the outdoors.
“We hope to instill environmental awareness in kids and families through hands-on activities rather than brochures and lectures,” said Dr. Melanie Kirk, assistant professor and urban forestry specialist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and co-founder of the program.
“We also hope to instill in them the importance of having healthy and renewable natural resources and being aware of the ecosystem around you. The things you do every day impact that ecosystem.”
Coordinated by Texas Forest Service and Texas AgriLife Extension, the competition is hosted regionally in six areas — Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Fort Davis and the Coastal Bend — throughout the year.
The contest calls for families to visit designated nature sites across the region in which they live, completing missions at each site. The families who complete the most missions are eligible for a grand prize.
Last year, more than 2,000 people — or 480 families — across the state participated in the regional contests.
Opening ceremonies for the Central Texas competition are scheduled for Saturday, April 2, 2011, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closing ceremonies will be held Saturday, July 16, 2011, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Both ceremonies will be held at Zilker Park in Austin.
“It is Nature Challenge, but it’s not driven around the process. It’s driven around the experience,” said Janice Sturrock, supervisor of education for the Austin Nature and Science Center and regional coordinator for the Central Texas competition.
“We want to challenge you to get out and learn more about the ecosystem you live in, learn about the bugs and flowers and what’s in creeks and ponds. But the challenge itself is not about winning. The prize is that experience you’ve had with your family that entire summer.”
For more information about Nature Challenge 2011, visit http://naturechallenge.tamu.edu.