Author Richard Louv challenges Charlotte to connect children with nature

Best-selling author Richard Louv issued Charlotte a challenge Friday: Become America’s best city at connecting kids with nature.

More than just childhood memories are at stake, Louv told a luncheon held in support of the Anne Springs Close Greenway. Medical studies show that children who experience nature are both physically and mentally stronger because of it, he said.

Louv, who wrote “Last Child in the Woods” among other books, said he also challenged his hometown of San Diego, but the Charlotte region is just as capable.

“I was very impressed with (the Carolina Thread Trail), with how it crosses borders to other counties, to another state,” he said.

A portion of the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill, S.C., is part of the Thread Trail, a 15-county network of existing and planned trails. Last Monday, the Springs-Close family announced a $15 million capital campaign to preserve the greenway for future generations.

Louv also noted the YMCA’s signature Camp Thunderbird on Lake Wylie and the Charlotte Observer’s annual Summer Camp Fund. Reader donations to the fund enabled more than 200 children from low-income families to attend camp last year.

A study soon to be released by the University of Illinois tracked the test results for children in more than 500 schools in the Chicago area, Louv said. It found that the single greatest factor behind improved scores was the exposure of children to nature, he said.

Louv believes the link is genetic. Other studies show that exercise indoors is good for you, but exercise outdoors is even better. He said pediatricians who are sold on the positive effects have begun writing “nature prescriptions” to help children coping with a wide range of issues, from attention deficit disorder to autism.

“What if the whole city (of Charlotte) began to think about that?” Louv said.

As it stands, more children are losing this opportunity, he said. The year 2008 marked the first time that more Americans lived inside cities than in the countryside, Louv said. That adds to the responsibility of cities to provide adequate parks and green spaces, he said.

Charlotte, he said later, could aspire to be a “nature-rich” city.

“Conservation is no longer enough,” Louv said. “We need to create nature.”