City proposes $5M Maplewood Nature Center, adopts Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights in Rochester

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren held a press conference at Upper Maplewood Park Tuesday to announce a proposal for a new $5 million city nature center, and to unveil the “Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights.”

The mayor says this measure will guarantee every child’s right to play outside and enjoy nature, regardless of race of social class.

“It is said that in affluent neighborhoods, they have more access to nature and we want to make sure that our children get that same access,” Mayor Warren said. “So today we are announcing the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. It is our declaration and commitment and we are supporting this commitment with our policies and investments. The Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights and the establishment of the Maplewood Nature Center are goals we set in 2018, when Rochester was one of just 18 cities in the country selected to participate in the Cities Connecting Children to Nature program.”

The mayor said Rochester City Council will review the $5 million proposal Wednesday for the construction of the Maplewood Nature Center.

City officials say part of this plan for the new Maplewood Nature Center in Maplewood Park will include teaching gardens, outdoor classrooms, a natural playground, and exhibits on the Genesee River and the plants and animals that live in Rochester.

“We, the City of Rochester, value the contributions of our youth, and we know that in order for our youth to contribute, they need to have exposure to all things environmental; health wise, play wise,” said Rochester City Council President Loretta Scott. “We are making a commitment to provide the very best we can and when we have an Outdoor Bill of Rights, it puts on record, and puts action to words for what we need and what they deserve. It’s going to be great.”

“I am so excited about this,” said Rochester City Councilmember Willie Lightfoot. “When you look at our City Council budget, often times the recreation is one of the smaller portions of the pie, and if you’re going to talk about the future of our young people, then we need to make that investment into our young people. Environmental equity is important, as well as having access to nature. I think the investment that were making in our young people, especially post-COVID, is even more important now that they can go out and have access to nature.”

“I have very fond memories of walking across from Seneca Park, crossing the bridge and coming to Maplewood,” said Rochester City Councilmember Miguel Melendez Jr. “I have a 2-year-old son, a 5-year-old daughter, and an 8-year-old daughter and one of the things I really value about the city is we have a lot of amenities, and a lot of park spaces, and what I want to see is that we continue to invest in ways that will attract people, attract more young people to our community. I think the Nature Center is going to be a great thing.”

According to the Center for American Progress, 74% of people of color are likely to live in a “nature-deprived” neighborhood, compared to 23% of white people.

“We knew our city’s’ children were not only missing the benefits of being in nature, but they were being harmed by not having this access and we could not let that continue,” said City of Rochester Department of Recreation and Human Services Commissioner Daniele Lyman-Torres.

“Through our participation in Cities Connecting Children to Nature, I’ve had the chance to visit cities who have invested in urban nature centers and have seen a dramatic decrease in their nature gaps. They are center are hubs for stargazing, camping, fishing, hiking, kayaking, catching those butterflies, learning about sustainability and catching rain water, and even include nature-based pre schools. These are some of the components that we are building into our plan for the Maplewood Nature Center.”

“This is so important because there are so many kids in our city who come into nature and are scared to get their fingers dirty and scared to really enjoy things they don’t know, and are not used to doing,” said Maya Waller, urban ecologist in a two-year program with Seneca Park Zoo. “The Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights is designed and has the potential to change that and make it so that every young child in Rochester is coming out of high school and elementary school loving nature, and exploring nature and teaching other people about nature, and take care of the world because that is so important.”

“The Outdoor Bill of Rights is made by youth to help youth,” said Patrick McDermott, of Youth Voice One Vision and the mayor’s youth advisory council. “A lot of my core memories come from being outside playing in nature. A lot of youth, sadly though, a lot of youth today do not have the same memories and that’s what I feel this Outdoor Bill of Rights could change.”

The mayor said these plans were going to be unveiled last Thursday on Earth Day, but said an April snowfall led to the delayerd announcemented.

“We were supposed todo this here last Thursday to celebrate Earth day, but Mother Nature had different plans for us, so hopefully we had our last snow of the season,” Mayor Warren said.

Full press conference:

This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.

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