Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center supporting bill that would fund nature-based learning for all Minnesota students

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Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center is championing a bill that would provide funding to support immersive outdoor education experiences.

It’s called Minnesota Outdoor School for All, and would provide funding for a three-day, two-night immersive nature experience for every 4th-8thgrader in Minnesota.

The executive director for Wolf Ridge, Pete Smerud, helped introduce the bill on Thursday at the capital. He said it was fitting it was Minnesota Day.

He added that the pandemic gave the outdoors the platform again of being the safe space. So they started working on a way to make outdoor education more accessible.

“That really spurred the concept of, well, let’s put a commitment out there. We all see it. We see the disconnection of kids from nature. We know and the stats are there. They may spend 10 minutes a day doing outdoor activities, but they’re on screens for 4 hours a day,” Smerud said.

Oregon and Washington have already passed legislation like this, and it’s already increasing the numbers.

Smerud shared that the experience can be transformational.

“This is coming of age for kids. And nowadays it may be their first time away from home. For kids from the Twin Cities or really urban areas, it could be the first time in the dark. They’ve never seen the Milky Way. In some cases, they’ve never seen stars. I mean, think of the power on so many levels that this can have to embody the chance of a career in natural resources or environmental science. The idea of understanding a bigger perspective on the world and feeling a deep connection to nature,”he added.

Senator Grant Hauschild, from Hermantown, and Senator Justin Eichorn, from Grand Rapids, are authors.

And Representative Roger Skraba said he would support the bill in the Minnesota House.

The goal is to get the bill to be considered as part of the 2024 Supplemental Budget Session.