Four children in the woods outdoors examining a leaf

Inviting the Next Generation Outdoors: Meet Jen Klein

Cultivating the next generation of people who care for our special places is vital to the future of The Trustees. Experiences we have as young people influence us for the rest of our lives, and thanks to critical support from Founders Circle members, we are enhancing our ability to connect young people to nature.

Thanks in part to Founders Circle donors, The Trustees launched a new staffing unit in 2020, called Outdoor Experiences, to expand and diversify our program offerings for families and young adults and help us reach one our strategic goal of “Inviting the Next Generation Outside.”

Read on to hear from Jen Klein, The Trustees Director of Outdoor Experience, about our accomplishments in 2021 and a sneak peek at what we have planned for 2022. As always, thank you for being a member of the Founders Circle!

Q: Tell us about Outdoor Experiences and Inviting the Next Generation Outside.
Jen Klein: The role of Director of Outdoor Experience blends together all aspects of my career over the last 20 years—engaging people through recreation, community engagement, outdoor and environmental education—all into one bucket to help The Trustees reach new and diverse audiences, under-resourced communities, and connect people to more greenspace. I’m most passionate about the therapeutic aspect of being outdoors and the ways I can bring that to more people.

This was a new role for the organization, which excited me when I joined, and it excites me to this day. Ultimately, I’m tasked with creating the framework and vision around this initiative connecting people to the outdoors. This is clearly something The Trustees has done for a long time, but with a position focused on this we’ve been thinking about how our properties are currently used and ways we might be able to use them differently.

Q: Why is this important?
JK: So much research shows that for kids to grow up into adults who care about nature, they need to have positive, unstructured outdoor experiences as a child. The way the world is now, kids get less and less of those opportunities. We want to let kids experience that here.

Over the past decade adults and children have had a renewed focus on leading an active and healthier lifestyle that includes spending more time outdoors. Hiking trails are busier than they have ever been before, campgrounds are booked, and there are nation-wide shortages of recreational equipment such as bikes, kayaks, and camping equipment.

Our vision is to invite and build the next generation of stewards who are ecologically literate, emotionally inspired, connected to the beauty and fragility of nature, and hold a personal responsibility for its vitality. Click here to for fun family activities this winter.

Q: What areas are we focusing on and what were some major accomplishments in 2021?
JK: Our plan to enhance our outdoor learning and recreation opportunities is part of our larger organization goal to “Invite the Next Generation Outdoors.” The strategy to accomplish this will encompass 3 key pillars: Public Engagement, Outdoor and Environmental Education, and Nature/Adventure Play installations. We made progress in all those areas in 2021.

With our roving recreation program, we’re acknowledging that we have 123 properties but only actively program at a fraction of those. We’re now doing these guided hikes at our properties that aren’t our flagships, but places that have a strong community following. We did it at 14 properties in the eastern part of the state, reaching a lot of people who never had been to a Trustees program before, and a lot of people who weren’t members that are now members.

This first year we’ve run about 200 programs, mostly guided hikes and walks, with the eventual goal to expand that to kayaking, paddle boarding and mountain biking at sites where that is possible in the future.  Click here to join a guided hike.

We also know we can’t do this work in a silo, so this past year we’ve worked really hard on new partnerships. Big City Mountaineers is a national nonprofit connecting under resourced youth of color to have camping and outdoor recreation experiences and we’ve partnered with them to get kids out to our properties. We’re also working on programming with organizations like Adventure East in Western Massachusetts, the Boy’s and Girl’s Club of Leominster and Salem, and Outdoor Afro.

And in terms of nature play, this year we received state funding for a Nature Play Trail at Copicut Woods in Fall River. It’s a property we have in a gateway city and this project is really going to help us reach new audiences on the South Coast.

There’s a big spectrum in terms of what nature play means. For our smaller projects like this one at Copicut Woods, we’re looking at creating small interventions for kids to leave the trail and play in a natural setting with natural materials. It’s really giving kids and families an invitation to leave that structured world and give them permission for free play in nature. This is the first time The Trustees is working on a project like this so it’s very exciting.

Q: What are we looking forward to in 2022?
JK: One of the best ways to engage new audiences is to meet people where they are. With that in mind, this summer we’re launching a mobile engagement unit, basically a vehicle like a food truck that travels to different communities. We’re still developing the programming, but we have thought about having popup nature play activities in parks, coastal activities, art-based activities—fun, outdoor things for kids and families to do that align with The Trustees key strategy areas.

A mobile engagement unit can consist of various smaller-scale outdoor nature play elements such as materials for fort building, logs for balancing and climbing, stumps for jumps, and dirt or water play. Additionally, it can include elements for creative play such as fairy house building, musical instrument design, or creating art from natural materials.

In addition to the Nature Play Trail at Copicut Woods, we’re also looking at doing smaller interventions at 10 to 12 other properties, such as Armstrong-Kelley Park, Long Hill, Bird Park, and others. There are some larger scale installations we are looking at, such as canopy walks and treehouses that alter visitor perception and experience in a forested landscape. Successful walks include both safe risk elements such as rope bridges and webs, and ADA accessibility.

Currently we have a design firm selected and are looking for funders for a large-scale tree canopy walk through the woods at Rocky Woods in Medfield. This installation will be our signature play site for The Trustees and will serve as a pilot for future installations.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity*