Last month in Confessions of an ‘Urban Guider’, GGC guest blogger Tammy Sutherland called for making room within Guiding “for those who challenge themselves on asphalt and concrete as much as those that long for the wilderness.” The post got a lot of feedback, and many of you said there is room for both urban- and wilderness-based activities in Guiding.
Obviously, it’s not an either-or situation.
One of the hallmarks of Guiding has been its engagement of youth with nature. This has usually meant camping and other back-country activities. But because our cities and towns don’t completely exclude nature, there are lots of ways to connect with the natural world within an urban context:
- Garden for wildlife. Get someone to loan a patch of land to your Unit and plant a native species garden. Native plants tend to be hardier and need less care and, because they evolved together, they are better at attracting native wildlife including frogs, toads, birds, beneficial insects and small mammals.
- Create homes for native bees and wasps — both important pollinators — like these DIY bee condos by the Resonating Bodies project. Pollination is one of the most important processes on the planet, responsible for our food, forests and fresh air. But our cities and farms have replaced the natural variety of plants that pollinators need for both food and shelter.
- Even if you don’t live near one of Canada’s 600 Important Bird Areas, you can still get wild about birds in a city park, trail or even your own backyard. Create a checklist of common species to give to each girl, borrow some binoculars and bird books and get birding! For older groups, go even further by creating an interpretive trail.
- Learn about the traditional uses of plants commonly found growing along trails and roadsides in and around cities. You’ll be surprised at how many “weeds” are actually native wildflowers with a long history of use as food or herbal remedies. Go further with a wildflower photo contest, and have the Unit create an illustrated guide to local wild plants.
As we spend more and more time in the fully-wired concrete jungle, engaging with urban nature could be even more meaningful to girls than learning how to roll a water-tight bedroll. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Back-country skills will likely always have a place in the Guiding program, and urban-based nature activities are already there. We should see them all as part of the broader objective of facilitating positive, meaningful experiences of the natural world.
Natalie works for the Canadian Wildlife Federation. As a former Pathfinder Guider, Katimavik project leader and scuba diving instructor, she is passionate about getting people of all ages outdoors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These are great suggestions for urban outdoor activities! Have you tried any you would add to her list?