Atlanta families have a multitude of green spaces and opportunities to explore the outdoors right out our back door. Atlanta Parent spoke to three different nature professionals about how to enjoy the great outdoors and cultivate a love of nature in yourself and your family.

Juliet Cohen

Executive Director at Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

From a young age, Cohen enjoyed spending time outdoors. She was born and raised in Puerto Rico, surrounded by tropical waters and rainforests, which she loved exploring. “I definitely have always been an outdoorsy person. I grew up in a very outdoor-friendly place, where year-round you could spend time outside,” she says.

She knew she wanted to work in water preservation, which made Chattahoochee Riverkeeper an excellent fit. CRK works to ensure there’s enough clean water in the Chattahoochee River. “We protect the Chattahoochee River as a resource. We want to make sure water quality is protected for drinking, irrigation and the processes we need, along with making sure there is enough water for everyone,” she says.

You don’t have to work for an organization to make a difference, Cohen says. “There are a lot of things that the everyday person can do that will have a big impact. You don’t have to wait for Earth Day, and you don’t have to worry that you as an individual or family won’t have an impact,” she says. “Things that we do every day – our transportation, our food, our property – can have a pretty big footprint. We have to train ourselves to have green habits.”

But volunteering with an organization is a wonderful way to reconnect as a family and with nature. Volunteering helps the earth, but it also shapes your children. “As parents, we have a responsibility to raise well-rounded children and to expose them to all aspects of civic life, including being a community servant. Initially, there might be some hesitancy to do something for the first time, but it’s a great experience that builds community and kindness,” Cohen says. “In today’s world, we’re constantly fighting against negativity from so many angles, whether that’s political, criminal, the pandemic. Doing something as a community builds a lot of goodwill. It doesn’t cost anything except your time, and it has a lasting impact. If you want to raise well-rounded humans, volunteering is one way to do it.”

James Moy

NeighborWoods Project Coordinator at Trees Atlanta

Moy grew up in Candler Park, a neighborhood with an impressive tree canopy. After graduating, returning to Atlanta to work for Trees Atlanta seemed like the right move. As the NeighborWoods Project Coordinator, many of his responsibilities occur during the October to March planting season. Each Saturday is a volunteer tree planting project, so he coordinates supplies, people and community outreach.

“A lot of people know we’re a city in the forest, but a lot of that forest is on private land, so we need the help of business owners and home owners who understand the importance of the tree canopy for the greater community,” Moy says. According to a study, 77% of Atlanta’s canopy is on single-family residential land and 8% is on multi-family residential land. “People need to understand that trees on private property affect more than just them. We can’t put a dollar value on how important that tree is.”

Moy’s parents made spending time outdoors an integral part of his life by spending a lot of their free time outside. “The biggest things growing up that made me love the outdoors was feeling safe and cared for,” he says. “The outdoors felt like a safe space to me and made me feel like it’s a place everyone is welcome. We were always enjoying any chance we could to get outside, which made me more comfortable traveling and with some of the things that gross people out about being outside, like dirt or bugs,” he adds. As a student at the University of Georgia, this made him confident about studying abroad at UGA’s satellite campus in Costa Rica, where he studied the rainforest and cemented his love for reforestation.

David Guzman

Interpretive Ranger at Hard Labor Creek State Park with Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites

As an interpretive ranger, Guzman creates, organizes and promotes the programs and events at Hard Labor Creek State Park. He also helps with the management of natural resources, such as controlled eradication of invasive species and establishing park boundaries.

Originally from Ecuador, he enrolled in UGA to work on a management of natural resources degree when he moved to Georgia. He began working with Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites after graduating. “I enjoy every minute of it. Georgia is beautiful with the Piedmont, coasts, mountains, different types of forest,” he says. “There’s a lot to learn about all the ecosystems, animals and plants we have here. Each park has new things to offer and different history. When visitors come to a park, they feel like they have done something more than just vacation. They feel like they’ve been part of the history of the park.”

If you haven’t prioritized time in nature, it’s not too late to start now, no matter how old your kids are. Unlike Cohen and Moy, Guzman does not consider his upbringing outdoorsy. He grew up in a city with three million people and being in nature was uncommon, and he learned to love the outdoors as a teenager. Every weekend, he’d do nature activities with his friends, such as camping or hiking. “My group of friends instilled in me a love for nature. I learned how to be in nature, how to survive in it and how nature works,” he says. “It was a life-changing experience.”

A love of nature can encourage your child’s sense of adventure and independence. Guzman’s first degree was in tourism, so he often traveled, and he even backpacked for two years throughout South America. “I love new challenges and new things to do. Life is about the experiences you have, the things that you can remember in the future,” he says. “I still think I’m on an adventure, moving here and living in Georgia. Everything is new – it’s a new life, a new beginning.”

To promote a love of the outdoors in your kids, you have to expose them, he says. He recommends Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites’ eRanger videos, which show easy activities you can do in a green space. “Take the kids to do different activities, and take them out of their comfort zone,” he says. “Expose them to something they’ve never done to see how they respond. Anything that sparks some interest in the kids, and then, those kids get to enjoy it so much they want to keep doing it. They can grow that interest themselves.”

– Emily Webb

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