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Generation 'In' gets a new nudge: Go out and play

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The great outdoors doesn't have the same pull it once did.

Attendance at national parks has slipped around 25 percent since 1987. The decline is even more precipitous at some state parks. Here at Connecticut's Mashamoquet Brook State Park, attendance on peak days has fallen by roughly half during the same period, says the park supervisor.

The main culprit, experts suspect, is a generational shift.

Today's youngsters and their parents are more wired and more scheduled than earlier Americans, leaving less unstructured time to spend outdoors. For the kids, that can mean missing out on childhood bonds to nature.

Alarmed, conservationists and government officials are looking for ways to reverse the trend. Connecticut has already started, with a new campaign this year called "No Child Left Inside." The idea: bring families back to parks, families like the Verdones.

"I was always in the woods. As soon as my bed was made, I was out the door," says Brenda Verdone, strolling with her family through Mashamoquet Brook. Pointing at her daughter, Deanna, who is skipping ahead after their white husky, "I want her to do this stuff. Being inside isn't good for you."

Connecticut has begun advertising and promoting the outdoors. Borrowing a concept from reality TV, organizers invited teams of families with kids to follow clues in an adventure contest spanning eight state parks.

A key to the adventure program was getting entire families to participate. Each team had to have at least one adult and at least one child. Families could share online photos and blogs of their trips. Some 400 families signed up, more than organizers could handle initially.

The "No Child Left Inside" idea is part of a larger national discussion among park wardens, government officials, and environmentalists about how to reverse a growing alienation from nature, particularly among youths. Those concerned cite the health of future generations, and the long-term support for conservation efforts by an indoor civilization.

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