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USDA Forest Service Challenge Cost-Share Program Supports Goals of Numerous Childhood Initiatives

By Deidra McGee, US Forest Service Public Affairs Specialist

The announcement of the More Kids in the Woods (MKIW) challenge cost-share program highlights  the multiple outcomes of many USDA Forest Service programs not only within the Agency, but across the Department and reaching to White House initiatives.

The Forest Service selected 21 MKIW projects from field units across the country that foster environmental awareness and stewardship among young people. The projects such as summer camps, outdoor labs, nature caching, wilderness expeditions and more will help kids make the connection between healthy forests, healthy communities and their own healthy lifestyles; while encouraging them to seek careers in conservation and resource management.

The initiative to engage and involve MKIW has numerous partners, cooperators, and an equal number of overlapping features and benefits to other initiatives across the country. The MKIW goals are echoed in efforts from the White House to the forests of Alabama. There the state has initialed Youth Taking Action, or YTA, aimed at curbing childhood obesity.

“Blending physical activity with conservation and environmental ideas will be a great venue for students to not only enjoy the great outdoors, but develop an ownership in the environment for future generations of people, plants, and critters!” Sallie Chastain; Coordinator, Community Education for Talladega (Alabama) County Schools.

This effort, mirroring First Lady Michelle Obama’s own focus, capitalizes not only on MKIW projects, but incorporates other resources like lessons and teacher materials from the Project Learning Tree curriculum (PLT). Local state officials agree that these benefits multiply the effectiveness of related programs.

“The Project Learning Tree mission is to use the forest as a “window” on the world to increase students’ understanding of our environment; stimulate students’ critical and creative thinking; develop students’ ability to make informed decisions on environmental issues; and instill in students the commitment to take responsible action on behalf of the environment.” Chris Erwin; Director of Education and Outreach, Alabama Forestry Association

This is the fourth year the Forest Service has matched funds and in-kind contributions from partners for “More Kids in the Woods”.  Partners include local, state, and federal agencies and American Indian tribes. Project activities include summer camps, after-school programs, and wilderness expeditions. The challenge-cost share will serve more than 15,000 children throughout the nation, including under-served and urban youth.

For more information on this year’s 21 MKIW projects, go to

Strengthening the Rural Economy

Cross-Posted from the White House Blog.

Rural areas are home to about 50 million Americans and are an essential part of the overall economy.  As the President embarks on the next stops on the White House to Main Street Tour in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri, the CEA today released a report that surveys the current state of rural America and describes the Obama Administration’s policies for strengthening the rural economy.  The map below shows the distribution of rural counties across the county. Read more »

Earth Day Marked by a Tree Planting and Funding Announcement to Boost Water Quality of a Vermont River

Molly Lambert, Vermont State Director for USDA Rural Development, was joined by Jenny Nelson from U.S. Senator Bernie Sander’s Office, State Officials, and Lyndon Town Officials for an Earth Day tree planting celebration and to announce the award of a USDA Rural Development Water and Environmental Program grant to upgrade the local wastewater treatment plant. Read more »

Riceboro, Georgia to get Almost $7.5 million In Recovery Act Funds for Sewer Treatment Plant Expansion Project

Written by E.J. Stapler, Rural Development Public Information Coordinator, Georgia

Shirley Sherrod, Georgia state director of USDA Rural Development, Mayor Bill Austin, and other officials celebrated Earth Day in Riceboro, where Phase II of a sewer collection and treatment project will be completed thanks to a USDA Rural Development loan and grant for $7,495,200. The project will eliminate a health and safety hazard, as well as provide service for 225 new users. The funding is provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“This is a wonderful way to observe Earth Day, because this project will help clean up the environment,” Sherrod said. “This project is very close to the ocean, as well.”

The City of Riceboro, located less than 10 miles from the ocean in Liberty County, is spread over about 4,000 acres, but has a population of only 800. Liberty County is ranked by the State of Georgia as being among those with the greatest need and highest poverty levels.

A sewer main will be installed to serve two areas. Those customers currently are experiencing failing septic systems, which creates a health hazard. Service will also be provided to a large, local employer.

Also, part of the Earth Day celebration was a river clean up and a poster contest sponsored by the city.

Over 100 people attended the Earth Day announcement  in Baxley, Georgia and many dined under a permanent pavilion by the river.

Ricky Sweat, Area Director in Baxley Georgia, talks to Georgia State Director Shirley Sherrod at the Georgia Earth Day celebration in Riceboro. The project announced by USDA will remove will remove contaminants from local rivers and streams.

Ricky Sweat, Area Director in Baxley Georgia, talks to Georgia State Director Shirley Sherrod at the Georgia Earth Day celebration in Riceboro. The project announced by USDA will remove will remove contaminants from local rivers and streams.

Celebrating Clean Water and Partnership on Earth Day in Nevada

For more than two years the Yerington Paiute Tribe has been unable to drink the water from its taps due to arsenic and uranium contamination.  Furthermore, the tribe and its lessee, Rite of Passage training academy, were under pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for being out of compliance with the Clean Water Act, and substantial fines were looming. Read more »

USDA Rural Development-Kansas Celebrates Earth Day With The City of Chetopa

By Harold Alford, Public Information Coordinator, Kansas

Last week as we celebrated the anniversary of Earth Day, we remembered that it is critical that we protect our environment for future generations. In each of the past 40 years, communities and individuals throughout our Nation have taken one day out of the year, Earth Day, to celebrate and initiate actions that preserve our planet.

This year, to mark Earth Day in Kansas, USDA Rural Development celebrated with the City of Chetopa, USD #505 Chetopa – St. Paul (School District), local business, and the community.

Kim Juenemann, Superintendant for USD #505 Chetopa – St. Paul remarked, “Chetopa Elementary has annually participated in one or more Earth Day activities.  We were very pleased to be part of the USDA’s efforts in creating a dual celebration between our school and the city of Chetopa.  Chetopa Elementary students will also be participating on May 14th to continue our celebration of Earth Day at which time they will be completing activities at our OWLS (Outdoor Wetland Learning Site) location.”

Local grocery, Chetopa Foods, has provided grocery bags for the K-8 grade kids to decorate with Earth Day or environmental theme drawings. At the event held in the Chetopa K-12 School Building, the children returned the grocery bags back to Chetopa Foods for distribution to the community, to share the art work and messages commemorating Earth Day.

As part of the celebration, USDA Rural Development presented the City of Chetopa with a Certificate of Recognition for its efforts to protect the environment, with the planned wastewater infrastructure improvements.  Funding for the City’s project, a $3,000,000 loan provided through the Agency’s Water & Environmental Program, was selected to be funded by federal appropriations, provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. (Stimulus Funds).  Funding of individual recipients is contingent upon their meeting the terms of the loan or grant agreements, and the letter of conditions.

City Clerk Toni Crumrine said, “Using USDA Rural Development funds to make improvements and repairs to our sanitary sewer system will allow us to provide a safe and healthy environment for the residents of our community.  As with all small communities, Chetopa needed to find the most economical way to obtain funds to make these improvements that will benefit our city at a cost that our citizens can afford.”

“USDA Rural Development’s Water & Environmental Program is one of the most important community and economic development efforts this Agency administers.  These USDA funds, combined with the Agency’s technical assistance which supports local leadership, helps make these critically needed services a reality.  Water is the most basic need to help support community and economic development in rural Kansas.  These valuable USDA programs promote economic growth and enhance the quality of life for the area residents served by these projects and all of Kansas,” commented State Director Patty Clark.

hildren from USD #505 Chetopa – St. Paul decorate grocery shopping bags for distribution by the local grocery as part of the USDA Rural Development Earth Day Event in Chetopa, Kansas.
Children from USD #505 Chetopa – St. Paul decorate grocery shopping bags for distribution by the local grocery as
part of the USDA Rural Development Earth Day Event in Chetopa, Kansas.