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Discover the Forest

July 2013

The “Discover the Forest” campaign, initiated in 2009 continues to deliver a strong message about the importance of spending time outdoors in nature. People, especially in more urban areas, discover the forest in a variety of ways. These include the more traditional outdoor recreation activities such as hiking and fishing, to walking through a butterfly garden at an urban nature center, to appreciating the landscape in an historic park, to finding solace in nature after a natural disaster such as Super Storm Sandy.

Environmental Education Link

Featured Scientist

Paul Gobster

Dr. Paul Gobster

Dr. Paul Gobster is a Research Social Scientist with the Northern Research Station’s office in Evanston, IL just north of the city of Chicago.  Much of Paul’s work has been conducted in an urban context with a focus on how we can better design, plan for and manage landscapes for the benefit of both people and natural systems.  

In recent research, Dr. Gobster and his co-investigators describe a range of approaches to restoring and managing urban natural areas.  These approaches vary with respect to the level of naturalness being sought and the scope i.e. whether the focus is on restoration of one species or an entire natural system. 

In “classical” restoration efforts the goal is often to restore native ecosystems, like savannas and prairies in Illinois, to the pristine conditions that existed prior to human settlement.  However, the mechanisms required to do this, such as use of prescribed fire and herbicides, may not be well received by nearby residents.  Alternative approaches give greater consideration to the cultural and physical realities of these urban settings.  

Restoring nature in urban areas may focus on protecting and enhancing conditions for specific plants and animals such as the endangered Karner Blue butterfly.  Restoring and maintaining designs from the past, such as a park landscape, may be the focus of other restoration efforts in urban areas.  Some urban restoration efforts take advantage of novel conditions that have enabled valued species to flourish that would otherwise have never occurred.  For example, restoration may focus on maintaining wetlands that have developed due to the presence of sewer outflows.  Finally, urban residents may seek to use small spaces to create nature gardens featuring native plants that hold functional, educational, and symbolic values. 

At the base of all these efforts is the value urban residents place on nature and natural systems.  Restoration in urban areas also makes it a lot easier for people to “discover the forest” without going too far from home.      

Find out more on Paul's scientist profile

Featured Product

Cover image from GTR-NRS-100: Outdoor Recreation in the Northern United StatesOutdoor Recreation in the Northern United States

As part of the Northern Forest Futures Project, which examines the issues, trends, threats and opportunities facing the forests in the Northeast and Midwest, we examined trends in recreation participation.  Study results suggest that the number of people participating in outdoors activities is growing, but that growth in participation is below the national growth rate. The overall population growth rate for the North is also below the national average.

Of the most popular activities in the north (30 million or more participants), the top three were walking for pleasure, attending family gatherings outdoors, and gardening or landscaping.  Among the next most popular activities (10 to 30 million participants), the most popular were viewing or photographing fish, warm water fishing and motor boating.  Among activities that draw 3 to 10 million participants, the popularity of backpacking and ice skating have both declined over the past decade. 

With less than 3 percent of total Federal land located in the north, federal land is less available for day trips.  However, the north has over 7,300 National Recreation Trail System miles, more than any other region.  The north is also home to nearly half (48.3 percent) of the recreation and park services provided by local governments across the nation.     

For a peek into the future of recreation participation in the North, stay tuned for a companion publication titled “Outdoor Recreation Participation in the North – Projections to 2060: A Technical Document Supporting the Forest Service 2012 Northern Forest Futures Project.” The report is expected to be released later this year.

Featured Research

Volunteer memorial in Cunningham Park

Northern Research Station scientists in New York City are part of a research team that will explore the importance of trees and natural resources in the recovery process of communities after major catastrophic events.  The project is called “Landscapes of Resilience” and is a collaborative effort with partners Drury University, Cornell University, the City of Joplin, MO, Forest Releaf of Missouri and TILL Design. “Landscapes of Resilience” is one of six projects nationwide that will receive grant funding this year  from the TKF Foundation. 

The cities selected for this study are Joplin and the New York City metropolitan area.  Joplin was hit by a tornado in 2011 that killed 161 residents and damaged most of the city’s built environment.  The New York City metropolitan area bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy as it blasted onto the northeast coastline in October 2012, killing 72 people and severely damaging infrastructure.   The research will help us to better understand how the stewardship of nature is an important part of the recovery process.  The study is funded for three years for a total of $585,000.

TKF Foundation, the study sponsor, was established in 1996 as a private non-profit that funds publicly accessible urban green space. 

More information on Living Memorials and Landscapes of Resilience.

Featured Partnership

Children interacting with nature at Eden Place.

In 2003, community activists created Eden Place Nature Center on a 3-acre vacant and degraded lot on the south side of Chicago.  The Center serves as an environmental education oasis for local children and their families. It has a small farm, raised garden beds, a patch of forest, an outdoor classroom, constructed wetlands, a butterfly garden, beehives, a fish pond, and a composting area.

U.S. Forest Service involvement with Eden Place runs deep. Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry has been supporting activities and programs at Eden Place for 10 years; International Programs has been involved through the “Monarch Live” program; and the National Forest System’s Region 9 and Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie have supported environmental education and job training programs.

Over the past 5 years, the Northern Research Station’s partnership with Eden Place has focused on youth recreation and learning activities such as 3-day, 2-night family camping trips to the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois.  Northern Research Station funding has also supported a “Foresters in Training” program for local teens and has helped young people learn about forest ecology and stewardship at Chicago parks and the Midewin National Tall Grass Prairie near Joliet, IL. 

Through this partnership, the Station is hoping to engage Chicago’s children in the natural world and perhaps help some of them discover careers in conservation.

More information about Eden Place