Connecting children with nature is one of the major missions of the National Park Foundation, and it has enlisted the help of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the National Park Service in their First Bloom project.
On a cold, drizzly week in late January, leaders from New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Austin and Washington, D.C. gathered here to learn about native plants and ways to launch community projects involving children who might not have opportunities to learn about the outdoors.
As the trainer for the project, the Wildflower Center developed a 3 ˝ day curriculum that taught these leaders nature-based activities that could engage children in their communities and help them appreciate the natural world.
“I work with boys from the lower east side,” said Barbara Swenson of the New York Boys Clubs. “That can be a challenge. Girls are more interested in gardening. But we’re learning some really good ways to make this fun.”
The 16 National Parks professionals and Boys and Girls Clubs of America leaders designed a native plant garden and installed another one in preparation for creating similar gardens in their own communities and national parks. They also learned about invasive species, seed cultivation, plant survival, plant conservation and habitat restoration.
One of the participants was Warrie Price, President of The Battery Conservancy, which mounted a major garden renovation at the Battery, the park on lower Manhattan Island. The Battery will be one of the first sites to begin a First Bloom garden.
"This is special for me because I was one of the founders of the Wildflower Center,” Ms. Price said. "I am so proud to continue Lady Bird Johnson's mission to wake up the nation to the value of native plants and also bring youthful hands and minds back to nature."
Children and their families could also get involved by helping National Park staff identify and remove invasive species, collect seeds of rare plants for safe keeping or restore native plants to overused areas.
The First Bloom pilot project was first announced by National Park Foundation Honorary Chair, Mrs. Laura Bush at the 2007 Leadership Summit on Partnership and Park Philanthropy in Austin last October. ARAMARK, a professional services organization and leading concessionaire of parks, resorts and hospitality services, is the initial and lead sponsor of the First Bloom project and has helped secure a $1 million grant through the Yawkey Foundation to the National Park Foundation.