NatureFest , a week long camp for kids at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, is first and foremost designed to get kids outside. The initial idea began with Akiima Price, an environmental educator, whose vision for NatureFest has resulted in a partnership between the National Park Service, D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative, and the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Longtime Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens volunteer and NatureFest coordinator extraordinaire Lydia Vanderbilt explained that four years ago Kenilworth wanted to connect with the surrounding neighborhoods but couldn’t quite find the right recipe. Akiima Price had the idea to connect community to park by bringing families into the park – both as a way to illuminate environmental stewardship and as a viable, vibrant, safe and affordable way to spend time together as a family.
More than that, it’s a way to bring neighborhood folks together, show that the outdoors are a place to spend time, and also keep school kids engaged while they have the week off. Also, NatureFest sounds like the best spring break ever: Boat rides on the Anacostia, a meet and greet with National Park Police horses, dissecting a squid and a field trip to the Arboretum are just some of the cool activities that kids get to enjoy.
We were proud participants, along with our partners at the Urban Forestry Division (UFD). Kasey Yturradle, Forest Health and Community Outreach Specialist at UFD noted, “As city arborists we work out in the field a lot and end up doing outreach while we work as folks come up to us and ask what we’re doing. Focusing solely on outreach, I’m able to program and spend committed time and resources educating the community. NatureFest was a perfect example of this and I’m so happy I had the chance to participate.”
Most importantly, Lydia stresses, is the positive influence NatureFest has on participating campers. “NatureFest is a trauma informed program and we know that kids need food and transportation as well. We provide everything for them so they have the opportunity to not worry about anything and just get to be kids.” Spending time outside, even for just a hour, has shown to have numerous benefits. Green spaces help residents combat stress, anxiety, and depression and exposure to trees and nature aids concentration by reducing mental fatigue.
Kasey noted that it’s, “important to show city kids that grow up in the city that nature is all around them. You don’t have to travel over an hour to Shenandoah to experience nature; we want to make the connection that it’s easy and effortless. It’s critical for the kids general well-being to be outside. And for many kids (and adults too!) they don’t realize that a love of the outdoors and nature can translate to a successful career.” Just look at arborists, tree climbers, and planners that have enjoyable, successful careers outside! Engaging and inspiring the next generation is a crucial part of protecting our tree canopy and ensuring its survival.
Overall, NatureFest provides a safe space for our youth in a unique urban national park right in their backyard. What more could you ask for?