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We can start today to make a difference in the lives of our children.

For those of us who serve in office, we often think about the big things that need to be done.

We work to build a strong, efficient and effective education system, to make schools better and make sure teachers have the resources they need.

We try to reduce pollution and preserve Maine’s special places.

And we try to make sure every child in the state has access to quality health care.

But when it comes to taking care of our children – and ourselves – there are more basic, simple things that we can do to make a difference.

Earlier this month, I kicked off a new initiative called “Take It Outside.”

It’s a simple message: Kids are healthier and happier when they are exposed to the wonders of nature.

Too often, we are losing our connection to the outside world.

Not long ago, I hiked Maine’s tallest peak, Mt. Katahdin.

I climbed the mountain with my son, Jack, and a group of friends.

It was an unforgettable trip – I will always remember the view looking up at the peak from Chimney Pond – and the view looking down at Chimney Pond as we approached the summit.

The memories will last forever, and the experience renewed my commitment to work hard at preserving what makes Maine special.

I have said this before, but it’s worth repeating: Our greatest duty is to prepare our children for the world they will face and protect the natural resources that they will inherit.

Atop Katahdin, there’s no doubting the importance of protecting those places that make Maine special.

Each year, thousands of people are drawn to Maine because we have remained diligent to those qualities that set us apart.

During my time in office, we have worked hard to preserve Maine’s special connection to the environment. We value clean air, clean water and open spaces, and have made investments to protect them.

That’s one of the reasons why Outside Magazine in its August issue named Portland its Best Town on the East Coast. The magazine had tough criteria: The towns have to combine “stunning natural beauty,” an active social scene, affordable housing and a good work job market.

“We tried to look for a mix of fantasy and reality,” Outside’s Editor Charles Keyes told the Reuters News Service.

“We wanted towns that had a great outdoor lifestyle but still were realistic places where you can live and work,” he continued.

For Maine, growing our economy means protecting our quality of life and natural resources. It’s the legacy we owe our children and grandchildren.

Maine has always had a special connection to the natural world: our traditional industries, fishing, farming and forestry, all require an understanding of nature.

Sharing Maine’s special places has been a key component of our economy and way of life.

Sporting camps, guides, summer camps and outfitters all profit by sharing that knowledge.

Yet in Maine, as elsewhere, young people are increasingly disconnected from nature.

Richard Louv (pronounced LOOV) drew attention to the issue with his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.

We know he’s right.

Sadly, in Maine as elsewhere, the number of overweight children is on the rise.

It’s easy to blame television and video games.

But we should also look at ourselves, and ask whether we could be doing more.

After all, children learn a sense of what’s important from the important adults in their lives — parents, grandparents, teachers and neighbors.

Are we taking our kids to parks?

Are we playing outdoors with them?

Are we introducing them to the joy and wonder of our natural world?

Are we doing everything we can to connect children with nature?

I have directed state agencies to evaluate their programs, rules and policies with respect to the role they play in encouraging Maine people, especially young people, to experience and appreciate the natural world.

I’d like to know whether our transportation, education and health policies are working to get children outside, or are they, inadvertently, contributing to keeping them indoors?

This is an issue for all of us.

We want to work with the best minds, including those organizations, like Chewonki and the Maine Conservation School, that are already doing a great job getting kids outside and connected to nature.

Next spring we will hold a Blaine House Conference on Youth and the Natural World.

I look forward to receiving the findings from our state agencies and incorporating them into our planning.

In the meantime, the weather is warm and there’s plenty of time for swimming, canoeing, hiking, biking, and enjoying summertime in Maine.

Get outside, have fun, and enjoy Maine’s natural beauty while living a healthy, active lifestyle!

You can do it today. Don’t wait. Get outside and enjoy what Maine has to offer.

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