Source AP ©

U.S. kids get from classrooms into the woods

Students from New York to Alaska will be exploring forests and wetlands this year in a program by U.S. Forest Service to get kids from their classrooms to woods.

The US$1.5 million (EUR1.12 million) "Kids in the Woods" program is aimed at a growing problem among American school children: a lack of direct experience with nature that experts say can contribute to childhood obesity, diabetes and even attention deficit disorder.

The program also is intended to nurture future environmental scientists and other Forest Service workers - an acute need for an agency with a graying work force, said Deputy Forest Service Chief Ann Bartuska.

"It's an opportunity to connect kids to our national forests and to other outdoor settings," she said.

The grant program, to be announced at a news conference Tuesday, includes 24 projects in 15 states. More than 23,000 children were expected to participate in the program, which is supported by a host of private groups, as well as state, federal and local agencies.

The Forest Service is providing US$500,000 (EUR372,000) in grants, with another US$1 million (EUR740,000) provided by partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New York Botanical Garden and the Gates Foundation.

In one project, students from the Harlem Link Charter School in New York City would explore forests and wetlands in the New York region, including the botanical garden and the Meadowlands Environmental Center in New Jersey.

In the Pacific Northwest, scholarship assistance would help 800 children attend educational programs at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington state. The program also would provide overnight trips for students in the Seattle area to learn more about conservation and environmental stewardship.

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