In 2019, the Utah State Legislature unanimously passed a concurrent resolution supporting Utah’s Every Kid Outdoors (EKO) Initiative, which highlights research that shows time outdoors benefits kids. In this resolution, the legislature and Governor Cox “recognize it is critical for the well-being and development of Utah's children that we promote a healthy, active childhood filled with outdoor experiences.”
Because of that legislation, the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation (OOR) facilitates an EKO passport program and, in 2020, managed a one-time grant from the Legislature to support outdoor youth programming, such as after-school rock climbing classes in partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs students, Elevated Mountain Guides mentors, Momentum Climbing Gym learning space and others.
Why does it matter?
Time outdoors – as little as 20 minutes at a time – has been shown to have universal positive effects on physical, social, and mental health. It has been shown to decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and even cortisol (stress hormone) levels. One study found improved self-esteem and mood within five minutes of exercising outdoors, with the greatest self-esteem improvements in youth.
Other studies have found that when kids learn and play outdoors, it can improve their problem-solving skills, creativity, and performance in reading, writing, math, and science. Learning and playing outdoors can also help youth improve their relationship skills and reduce stress and anger, and persons of all ages experience health benefits by simply being in an outdoor space like a park, even if they’re just sitting on a bench.
Utah has an EKO passport program with 10 free or low-cost outdoor activities that any kid can enjoy, regardless of background or ability. Any kid who completes all 10 activities can send their passport to the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation and receive a prize donated from local outdoor companies. The passport is available (with instructions on how to turn it in) at business.utah.gov/outdoor/eko.
Opportunities to complete (and enjoy) the passport on the west side
- Observe nature and wildlife in Utah: Have you visited the Fred & Ila Wetlands Preserve just north of the International Peace Gardens? It’s a beautiful place to experience an escape into nature while still being in a major city.
- Explore Utah's 44 state parks: One state park on SLC’s west side is The Jordan River Off-Highway Vehicle State Recreation Area, located north of the Regional Athletic Center, near the border with Davis County. Please note, the State Park has an entrance fee, riders must be at least 8 years old and those between ages 8 – 16 must complete an educational program before riding.
- Experience “The Greatest Snow on Earth”: Watch the flakes fall or make a snow angel if you’re feeling warm enough. If you want to try something you haven’t done before, the University of Utah rents snowshoes, cross-country skis and more.
- Gaze at the starry sky: Step outside after the sun sets and look up – notice which stars and planets you see.
- Bring along a friend to discover nearby nature: Visit your closest park and notice the plants, animals, or built environment.
- Splash in Utah's rivers, lakes, and streams: The Three Creeks Confluence in Glendale is where Red Butte, Emigration and Parley’s Creeks meet and flow into the Jordan River. The grand opening of this restoration project near 1300 South and 900 West will take place in late spring, after native flowers, plants and trees are planted. The site is a wonderful place to relax, fish, learn about the creeks or simply enjoy your commute.
- Follow a trail: You can follow the Jordan River Parkway trail by foot, bike, kayak, and more.
- Plant a seed: Test your green thumb in your yard, a community garden or even inside your house – studies show bringing nature indoors has mental health benefits, too.
- Play on Utah's rocks and mountains: You might need to drive or take UTA just a bit to get to the Wasatch or Oquirrh mountains, or you can check out fun terrain, dirt jumps, and pump tracks at the 9 Line Bike Park.
- Be a steward and take care of Utah's outdoor places: You can get involved in events and volunteer opportunities with the city and learn what it means to be a steward of outdoor places, why it’s important to pick up after your dog and how to plant seeds and trees. If you’re interested, you can learn more at: slc.gov/parks/trails-natural-lands/volunteer.
India Nielsen Barfuss is a Program Manager at the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation and lives in Jordan Meadows with her husband and rescue cat. For more information about the Every Kid Outdoors Program and to download a passport, visit https://business.utah.gov/outdoor/eko.