Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today (March 2) announced USDA’s continuing commitment to get kids outdoors and connected to the natural world around them through $1 million in cost-share funding from the U.S. Forest Service to enhance children’s programs in 18 states.

Vilsack will highlight the announcement later today at the Interior Department during the White House conference, Growing America’s Outdoor Heritage and Economy, which emphasizes the link between conservation and strong local economies through tourism, outdoor recreation, and healthy lands, waters and wildlife. The conference has attracted boaters, hunters, anglers, farmers, ranchers, land conservationists, historic preservationists, outdoor recreationists, small business owners, local governments, tribal leaders and others from across the 50 United States to discuss ways to spur and support successful conservation projects around the nation.

The Forest Service grants align with President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiatives.

“These programs provide an essential connection to our great outdoors, which we hope can be a key part of growing up for children from all walks of life,” said Vilsack. “We need kids to experience the wonders of the great outdoors and take ownership of the future of natural resources. Today’s children are tomorrow’s stewards of the land.”

The funding will be distributed to the agency’s More Kids in the Woods and Children’s Forests programs. Augmented by partnership money or in-kind donations, the funding will benefit existing programs or act as seed money for new ones that help kids explore their role in natural resources. Twenty-three of the grants will go toward More Kids in the Woods projects and eight will go toward the development or expansion of Children’s Forests.

“These grants strengthen our bonds with communities with a bottom line goal of getting kids to explore and appreciate America’s great outdoors,” said US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “There are few things more gratifying for me than seeing our youth gain an appreciation for the amazing landscapes we have in this country.”

More Kids in the Woods projects include activities and programs designed to spark curiosity about nature and promote learning. This is a cost-share program where thousands of partners contribute their time, energy and resources to help connect kids and families with the natural world.

Children’s Forests differ in that they are centered around developed outdoor spaces on national or state forests, in urban parks or at schools. The core mission of a Children’s Forest is to get young people to take a leadership role in forest management by giving them a voice in caring for the land.