Curing “Nature Deficit Disorder” With Canoes

How many times have you thought about canoeing that river that’s just a mile or so from your back door? If you’re a 10-year-old kid with that fantasy, then dreams really can come true.

Last summer, 130 New England kids canoed miles of river from the Adirondacks in New York to the Allagash waterways of Maine, thanks to The Northern Forest Explorers Program, a program of the Waitsfield-based Northern Forest Canoe Trail that offers outdoor summer programs for children throughout northern New England and New York.

According to Roger Poor, NFEP’s youth program director, the summer program has been highly successful, providing youth from ages 10 to 14 with paddling and camping adventures. Through NFEP, kids spend a weeklong session exploring their backyard waterways; gaining canoeing, survival, leadership, and cultural skills. Maintaining a daily journal, kids record their time spent on the canoe trail.

The experience had a profound effect on many of the participants. A camper had this takeaway lesson from involvement in the explorers’ program: “Make sure you love everything that the world gave you, and if you use it, give it back. Don’t forget to love the most important things in life, and not to take even the slightest thing for granted, because anything can happen.”

If you were a 12-year-old kid from Vermont, a typical day on the canoe trail might include learning to build a fire, cooking meals on that fire, discovering Native American culture, mastering and using survival skills, and romping about in the water. NFEP’s Youth Program Director Roger Poor says, “We want kids to be proud of where they are from (by) creating a back door sense of ownership.”

Funding for the program has come via grant money from companies with a strong regional presence such as All Terrain, L.L. Bean, and Recreational Equipment Incorporated, to reconnect rural youth with the natural environment around them. The program is a great fit for the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, which is a 740-mile paddling adventure that traverses New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, and Maine. One of NFCT’s goals is to help rural communities and kids learn about and incorporate their local natural environments into their daily lives.

The NFCT’s summer programs could not come at a more critical time for New England’s youth. According to Elise Annes, Vice-President of Community Relations at the Vermont Land Trust, “There is a quantifiable phenomenon that is occurring in youth today that is called ‘nature deficit disorder,’ a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book ‘Last Child in the Woods.’ Only a generation ago, the reality of childhood was much different than what our youth experience today. Children are more sedentary, live more highly scheduled lives, and spend considerably less time outdoors. As a result, children are missing the meaningful experience of exploring and discovering the natural world around them.” One of the goals of the NFCT’s summer programs is to reverse the trends described by Annes.

For the summer of 2012, the Northern Forest Explorers hope to increase the number of campers in addition to diversifying the geographical representation from the participating New England states. If you or your community would like to get involved with NFCT or the Northern Forest Explorers visit or contact the Youth Program Director Roger Poor at ( or (603) 801-9597. Applications for the 2012 session will soon be available online or check with your local school. There is a modest fee to participate in the Northern Forest Explorers Program, however, additional financial aid is available.