Before They’re Gone – by Michael Lanza

One focus of our 100th anniversary celebration this year is about inspiring the next generation to explore and enjoy our magnificent outdoor spaces. We were delighted to learn that acclaimed author and outdoorsman Michael Lanza was interested in sharing his family’s adventures as a guest blogger for L.L.Bean.


Michael Lanza is the Northwest Editor of Backpacker Magazine, the creator of and the author of Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks (Beacon Press), the story of his family’s backpacking, sea kayaking, climbing, canoeing and cross-country skiing adventures in iconic national parks that face major threats from climate change.


Before They're Gone


As we started down the exposed, ice-covered Grandview Trail into the Grand Canyon, I watched my kids closely and nervously. My son, Nate, was nine; my daughter, Alex, a week past her seventh birthday. The trail narrowed to a couple feet wide in spots. To one side was a drop-off of hundreds of feet. We had no room for error, not even a little slip.


Before They're Gone - Kids with Snow


With me literally guiding them by the hand through the sketchiest stretches, we made that descent without incident – as we did the rest of that four-day, 29-mile backpacking trip, which included one 10-mile day and concluded with an eight-mile, 4,000-foot climb back up to the South Rim.


When the folks at L.L.Bean invited me to submit this guest post to help them promote their campaign to encourage more kids to get outdoors in this year of Bean’s 100th anniversary, I leapt at the opportunity. My wife and I have gotten our kids – who are now 11 and nine – out on outdoor adventures regularly since before they could walk.


When Nate was six and Alex was four, we cross-country skied through a snowstorm to a backcountry yurt, took a five-day float trip down the Green River through Canyonlands National Park with four other families and hiked in the Scottish Highlands. My kids both rock climbed their first 150-foot cliff at age six.


Before They're Gone - Kids in Kayak


For my book about taking them on wilderness adventures in 11 national parks facing different threats from climate change, when Nate was nine and Alex seven, we sea kayaked in Alaska’s Glacier Bay, paddled past alligators in the Everglades and backpacked among grizzlies in Glacier National Park, just to name a few of our family trips.


Before They're Gone - Kids on Path


Of course, your family’s skill level and comfort zone may be much different, and that’s fine. Even taking a short hike in a local park or exploring a stream can be a magical journey for a child and surprisingly thrilling for a parent. What matters is nurturing in children a love for the outdoors and nature that they develop throughout childhood and carry into adulthood. We know from a growing body of data – and from books like Richard Louv’s bestselling “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” – that unstructured time outdoors is critical to the emotional and intellectual development of children.


People occasionally ask whether I worry about safety on our family wilderness adventures. My answer is, yes, of course. All parents worry; it’s part of the job description.


But I worry much more that they will not spend enough time outdoors. Children today spend less and less time in nature. Many would plant themselves in front of an electronic screen for several hours a day if allowed to – and my kids are no different in that regard.


For their sake – and, I think, for the sake of all of us who will someday live in a world run by the young people growing up now – we must make the effort to instill in children a love of the outdoors.


Besides, it’s quite a lot of fun doing so.


Before They're Gone - Boy on Mountain


Thanks to Michael for this inspiring blog post.  Tell us, how do you inspire your children to get outdoors?


  1. Chris & Patty in Colorado | September 12, 2012 | 1:32 pm

    Our kids are grown now. They grew up outdoors as children of Bureau of Reclamation and Forest Service employees. Now, as an Environnmental Specialist with the National Park Service, I have trouble keeping them from joining all my “business trips” and we still regularly camp as a family both in and out of parks. The fun challenge for us now is to pass this family trait on to the grandkids! My wife and I will happily take on that role as (soon to be retired) grandparents!! What better way to spoil the grandkids – babysitting comes with a camping trip (or at least a walk in the woods) attached! If kids are introduced to the outdoors a young enough age, they develop no “fear” of what nature has to offer – only wonder and excitement! Its full time sensory intake, no video games required (or even requested).

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