Private-Public Partnership Reaching Out to Kids

By Justin Torres and David Bozell | July 7, 2008 | 8:02 PM EDT

Capitol Hill (CNS) – They may have been on Capitol Hill, but what was on the minds of a group of children from inner-city Washington, DC, were hills of a completely different sort – the ski slopes. (photos of event)

A group of inner-city kids spent Thursday testing out a ski simulator in front of the U.S. Capitol, as part of the kickoff for an innovative program – a partnership between federal, state, and local governments and the business community – designed to get city kids out into America's woods, national parks, and natural sites.

Wonderful Outdoor World, or WOW, is funded by the U.S. government and various businesses, including Wells Cargo, Walt Disney, and Chevy/GEO. The program is designed to get kids off the couch and into the great outdoors – especially kids who rarely get the chance to enjoy America's natural beauty.

"For many area children, the WOW program will be their first chance to participate in outdoor recreational activities like camping, fishing, hiking, and skiing that aren't associated with urban lifestyles," said Benjamin McCottry, interim executive director of Washington WOW.

Headlining the event on Capitol Hill was Olympic skiing medallist Tommy Moe, Ann Battelle a World Champion skier, Chad Fleischer, two-time Olympian and 1999 U.S. downhill champion, who helped kids use the ski simulator providedby the National Skiing Association.

"We're just here to introduce kids to a sport they've never seen before," Fleischer told CNS. "It's good for them to get out and try new things."

WOW organizers say that there is a steady decline in the number of youth who participate in traditional outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, canoeing, and skiing.

The decline is attributable to many factors, including urban lifestyles, changes in family structure such as the rise of the one-parent family, shifts toward organized team sports, and increased use of computers and video games.