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Connecting Youth To National Parks Through Paddling Programs

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Paddling in national parks, such as on Yellowstone's Lewis River Channel, and other streams and lakes, is a great way to connect youth with the out-of-doors./Kurt Repanshek.

With so much water running through national parks, it seems the perfect setting to connect today's youth to the out-of-doors. And that's the mission of this year's Paddle Nation Grants.

Outdoor Nation, a national initiative that reconnects millennials to the outdoors; top paddle-sport manufacturers, retailers and stakeholders; Outdoor Retailer; and the National Park Service are collaborating on the initiative.

Under the program, now in its third year, $2,500 is awarded to each of 16 innovative paddling projects that connect young Americans to their waterways through recreational paddling.

Paddle Nation Grants will not only get more young people outside and active on America'™s waterways, but it will also educate and elevate the importance of protecting these resources,' said Chris Fanning, executive director of the Outdoor Foundation, the organization that started the Outdoor Nation movement.  'œAs a result, millennials across the country will explore rivers, lakes and streams through a variety of different activities '“ from kayaking to stand up paddle boarding - while encouraging their peers to join them on the water.'

Winning projects will reinforce the idea that recreational paddling is one of the most accessible and impactful ways to introduce young Americans to the outdoors. They must be in partnership with a 501c3 organization and should utilize social media channels as a way to reach additional audiences and engage participants.

Projects that involve a national water trail, wild and scenic rivers, or a local outdoor retailer sponsor will be given special consideration. So will those that engage family or multi-generational populations and urban or underserved communities.

For more information or to apply for a Paddle Nation Grant, visit this website.

'œInteraction with natural landscapes and waterways is good for everyone both physically and mentally'¦it can be a rejuvenating and thrilling experience that shapes a person'™s view of wild, open areas long afterward,' said Kenji Haroutunian, vice president and Outdoor Retailer show director. 'œPaddle Nation is a program that facilitates this healthy engagement with nature, and ties in specialty retailers and worthy non-profits to create that triangle of strength that not only gets young people into the outdoors, but gives them local resources to follow up and keep the experience alive into the future.'

The 2012 and 2013 Paddle Nation Grants are already empowering and inspiring youth across the United States and serving audiences from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. With support from Outdoor Retailer, the National Park Service and Outdoor Industry Association, $60,000 in grants is funding 25 innovative projects and engaging more than 3,600 people in paddle sport activities, organizing 150 outdoor outings and resulting in more than 2,400 hours spent participating in paddle sports.

'œYoung people are making a difference in their communities and we want to support that. These grants are about helping make a first connection to the water through play. We hope they grow that first experience and become people who pay attention to and care for their local rivers and waterways,' said Corita Waters of the Park Service's Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program.

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