By Reg Chapman

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities is using “pop-up camps” to help connect kids with nature.

The Y partnered with the city of St. Paul and the National Park Service to sponsor 180 campers from underserved communities. The Y hopes this outdoor experience will help keep kids away from TV and computer screens.

For 10-year-old Francis McLane, skipping rocks has become one of his favorite things to do.

“Just to see how far you can do it and you know how good you are,” McLane said.

Francis is one of 180 kids experiencing nature as part of the Y’s push to get outdoors.

“We’re connecting kids to nearby nature to time outdoors in local parks to prove you don’t have to leave the city to enjoy nature,” YMCA camp and outreach director Niall Murton said.

At Hidden Falls Regional Park, campers get to play games like gaga ball and 9-Square in the Air. They are also drumming up the courage to try the rock climbing wall.

Camp would also not be complete without a nice hike along the trails and a camp fire complete with s’mores.

“A lot of our studies show our kids are spending about seven and a half hours a day on screens–be it tablets, phones, TV screens,” Murton said. “So we want to connect those kids to the outdoors.”

“I think it’s fun to meet new kids and to play with them this whole week,” McLane said.

Some of these kids have never been to camp and may live in the urban core of St. Paul. The Y removed barriers such as transportation and cost to make sure all kids have access.

“Our hope is that they are going to come back with their families,” Murton said.

The Y is looking for ways to continue making it possible for kids to experience the outdoors all year round.

Reg Chapman