Opening The Outdoors To Everyone

The sandy trail through pine trees and over sand dunes was only 30 minutes from my home in the city, but the strange beauty of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore seemed like the other side of the world. I was 8 years old, and I’d never traveled beyond my neighborhood. Growing up in Chicago, I was accustomed to sights and sounds associated with city life. For me, entering a place devoid of concrete and streetlights was new and fascinating.

We were walking along the trail and I saw what I believed to be a large dog. But unlike the dogs at home, this one didn’t bark. The tan animal was large, with a head shaped like nothing I’d seen before. I stopped one the leaders of our group and asked him, “What sort of dog is that?” He smiled down at me and said, “That’s a doe, Brandon, a female deer.”

For me, the deer sighting was the highlight of the trip and upon returning home I wanted to learn more about deer and other wild animals.

I believe that everyone involved in conservation work can trace back to one profound moment when their deep fascination with nature began. This was my aha! moment in May 1990, on a sand dune in northwestern Indiana.

Today, I lead others to nature’s mysteries—from Current River float trips to viewing wildlife in Kansas City’s heart—as an MDC education specialist. I hope to ignite that same wonder and curiosity in young people, especially those from city environments.

My fascination with wildlife was ignited but was difficult to build upon because, where I grew up, wildlife was rare and my family did not have a tradition of outdoor exploration. I know the same is true for many students who pass through our nature and outdoor skills classes at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center, in Kansas City’s urban core. The wetland, prairie and woodland landscaping in the outdoor gardens there display wildflowers and wildlife that some have never seen or thought of before. It’s important for us to find a way to nurture that growing interest.

Aha! Is Only the Beginning

I was blessed because my annual camping trips to Indiana Dunes with a church group became my opportunity to learn about the outdoor world. Later, I became a counselor at a summer camp that specialized in exposing inner-city youth to the outdoors. For many of