2023 Youth Outdoor Policy Trends Report
The Youth Outdoor Policy Partnership highlights state policies helping youth spend meaningful time outside at school, home, work, and play. Our annual trends report shares innovative ideas in youth outdoor engagement to inspire legislators, advocates, communities, and youth to replicate, rethink, and collaborate to build equitable youth outdoor opportunities.View the full report as a PDF (137 KB)
Outdoor policy saw unprecedented growth in 2023, with over 200 bills on outdoor recreation, education, access, and equity introduced across 40 U.S. states and at least 57 policies already enacted.
This report summarizes key policy trends, initiatives, and specific bills enacted in 2023 that have a significant impact on youth and:
- Outdoor Access and Equity
- Outdoor Learning and Education
- Outdoor Wellness
- Outdoor Funding & Governance
- Federal Policy Related to State Efforts
- New and Exciting Outdoor Ideas
View the full report as a PDF (137 KB) here.
These bills were identified by Youth Outdoor Policy Partnership, including the Children & Nature Network, the North American Association for Environmental Education, the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, and our newest partner, Nuestra Tierra. Nuestra Tierra brings extensive outdoor equity policy and community engagement knowledge, including leading the Outdoor F.U.T.U.R.E. Initiative and championing the New Mexico Outdoor Equity Fund.
As a partnership, we do not endorse any specific bills or policy ideas. We share these examples of youth outdoor policy to inspire local champions and legislators to consider what might work in their state. This is not a comprehensive list, and we welcome suggestions for additions or corrections at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2023 trends report shares innovative ideas in youth outdoor engagement to inspire legislators, advocates, communities, and youth to replicate, rethink, and collaborate to build equitable youth outdoor opportunities. Please see our 2023 Outdoor Policy Legislation Tracker for a comprehensive list of state outdoor policies.
Outdoor Access and Equity
With the success of Outdoor Equity and No Child Left Inside programs in California, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Washington, states are increasingly turning to equitable outdoor access as public health, economic opportunity, and environmental justice solutions, especially in mitigating climate crisis inequity. NCEL’s new Outdoors as a Climate Solution Briefing Book highlights how states are advancing climate equity with outdoor policy.
- Colorado H.B.1296 created a task force to study disability inclusion with a focus on outdoor equity.
- Maryland S.B.923/H.B.503 established a Greenspace Equity Program to increase equitable access to quality green spaces in overburdened & underserved areas.
- New Mexico S.B.392 established youth outreach programs to promote interest in outdoor recreation, stewardship & conservation funded by offering the opportunity to donate during Department of Game and Fish purchases.
- North Carolina S.B.22 established and authorizes funding a Youth Outdoor Engagement Council to expand youth access to outdoor recreation in nature. SB 22 repurposes an existing Outdoor Heritage Council and program funds, including authorization to hire staff.
Outdoor Learning and Education
Focus on outdoor education increasingly overlapped with outdoor equity, with education policies trending towards reaching nature-deprived, underserved, and historically excluded youth through outdoor learning in schools. Climate education gained support and at least six states considered changes to environmental and climate education.
- Maine LD 1682 established an experiential Sea and Farm to School Program, connecting schools with real-world educational opportunities and local food.
- Maryland H.B.525 established a pilot program to license outdoor preschools.
- Nevada A.B.164 will study using state outdoor recreation resources to incorporate outdoor education into public schools.
- Oregon HB 2717 allows outdoor childcare facilities (e.g. daycares) to be licensed and will set guidelines for safe outdoor childcare.
- Washington S.B.5257 requires a minimum of 30 minutes of daily recess, outdoors when possible.
Time outdoors is a powerful public health tool offering some of the greatest benefits to youth and children. As climate change impacts youth most severely, youth health and wellness increasingly depends on time outdoors. States are turning to the outdoor policy to build childhood and youth health, address outdoor safety inequity, and promote lifelong health through the outdoors.
- California AB 1056 would fund free water safety & swimming lessons for underserved youth.
- Illinois H.B.1526 created an Outdoors RX grant program in the Department of Health to fund improving health and wellness through outdoor access.
- Louisiana S.R.84 created a task force to improve childhood health. State experts identified links between low state-wide childhood wellness and a lack of access to the outdoors, healthy foods, and safe physical activity, especially in summers and close to home.
- Maryland HB 303 clarified and strengthened pool safety disproportionately endangering youth of color.
Outdoor Funding and Governance
Funding and leadership are the most common limiting factors in states executing environmental and education goals. However, recent budget cycles have seen a renewed focus on investing in outdoor spaces and learning opportunities as a result of people spending more time outdoors during the pandemic and in response to climate change.
- Arizona H.B.2505 continued a commission to assess, set criteria, and distribute funding to improve and expand outdoor recreation infrastructure.
- Alabama S.B.298 established funding to strategically develop and connect existing trail resources.
- New Mexico S.B.9 established over $150 million in permanent and legacy funds to conserve and expand access to the state’s most important natural, cultural, and historical resources, including permanently funding the New Mexico Outdoor Equity Fund (S.B.462).
- Nevada A.B.164 repurposes an outdoor recreation commission to study integrating outdoor recreation into state curriculum.
- Utah H.B.224 enacts an initiative and dedicates funding to strategically improve and expand outdoor recreation statewide and Wyoming H.B.74 established a $6 million perpetual trust fund for outdoor recreation and tourism.
States are often referred to as the “laboratories of democracy” where ideas can be tested and refined and state policy often inspires federal action. Additionally, states play a pivotal role in carrying out federal programs in both deploying federal funding and collaborating with the federal government on state plans. Here are current federal policy proposals and programs that relate to state efforts around youth outdoor engagement:
- Living Schoolyards Act (S.1538) (info), also introduced in 2022, would establish an Outdoor Learning Spaces Grants program, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, to allow schools or districts to create outdoor classrooms and learning spaces.
- No Child Left Inside Act: (S.1239/H.R.2784) (info), also introduced in 2022, would provide funds to states and school districts for the implementation of statewide environmental literacy plans. The 2022 version of the bill includes, for the first time, a pilot program for outdoor school for all models.
- Outdoors for All Act (S.448/H.R.1065), also introduced in 2022, would expand outdoor recreation equity by guaranteeing funding for the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP). ORLP helps economically disadvantaged urban and tribal communities establish and renovate parks.
- Land and Water Conservation Funding (LWCF) will exceed $1 billion in 2023. The Great American Outdoors Act (H.R.1957) permanently allocated $900 million annually; GOMESA (P.L.109-432) National Park Formula Grants will exceed $125 million in 2023.
- America the Beautiful Challenge (ATB) will distribute $116 million to protect, conserve, restore, and expand access to nature.
It’s not uncommon for policy ideas to be introduced multiple times before becoming law. The following concepts were considered in the previous legislative session and are likely ones to watch for the future.
California S.B.499 would require schools to protect students from extreme heat, including providing shade, low heat surfaces, and greenery for safe outdoor recess and outdoor class time.
Wyoming H.B.48 would have established an active transportation and recreation grant program to increase wellness with more connectivity for cycling, walking, and riding.
Illinois S.B.1369, Massachusetts H.756, and Tennessee S.B.375/H.B.1337 would have created offices of outdoor recreation, already enacted in 20+ states to lead state outdoor recreation.