Children and Nature: Growing Estranged - StarTribune, April 21, 2014 and Reconnecting Our Children with Nature, Lakeshore Weekly News, April 28, 2014

2GUNYOU042214.jpgMy dad taught me years ago we don’t plant trees for ourselves, we plant them for our grandchildren. It was the most important lesson he ever taught me — living my life today as if the future matters. In my role as chairman of the Three Rivers Park Board, I have come to appreciate his farsighted philosophy even more. It’s not simply about planting trees. It’s about a commitment to long-term stewardship — of our environment, and for our children.

A book was published a few years ago making this very point. Last Child in the Woods documents the importance of direct exposure to nature for developing the  physical and emotional health of children. Among the startling factoids:

  • By the 1990s the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam on their own had shrunk to a ninth of what it had been in 1970.
  • Today, the average eight-year-old is better able to identify cartoon characters than native species, such as beetles and oak trees, in their own community.
  • The rate at which doctors prescribe antidepressants to children has doubled in the last five years, and recent studies show that too much computer use spells trouble for the developing mind.

The subtitle of Last Child in the Woods is “Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder.” I’m pretty sure that’s not a diagnosis recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, but it is a description of the human costs of alienation from nature.

I was fortunate to grow up in a home involved in Scouting. In fact, I still have my 90-year-old uncle’s dog-eared Handbook for Boys. My summers were spent at Camp Lakota, and my first exposure to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters was the year I became our troop’s first Eagle Scout.

Prompted by a fiercely independent mother, who was liberated well ahead of her time, we spent many a family vacation in tents, in canoes and on trails that would never be paved. Most children today are not so fortunate.

That’s why our work at Three Rivers is so important to the future of both our children and our communities. With our shrinking natural worlds, we offer an opportunity for children to reconnect with nature. We translate that commitment into reality through our many nature centers, camps & outdoor programs.

Three Rivers is home to hundreds of animal species indigenous to Minnesota’s woods, prairies and wetlands. Kids of all ages can get up close and personal at one of our several nature centers staffed by inspirationally zealous naturalists and volunteers who live to share their love of nature.

We also offer many opportunities for youth groups, and provide financial assistance through our Wonder Fund for individuals, schools and agencies serving children and young adults. Our successful partnerships with schools are now being expanded to reach more youth through field trips, classroom visits and after school learning activities.

For organized groups, we offer backpack programs for exploring the outdoors, overnight stays in cabins or tents, and even Build-a-Badge programs for groups working toward specific awards.

I am particularly proud of our summer camp program, where we help kids gain an appreciation for nature while making new friends and lifelong memories. Three Rivers offers camps for youth from ages 4 to 15, with themes ranging from nature exploration, outdoor recreation, golf, fishing, farming, art and Minnesota history.

The year Dad passed away, my own children joined me on Arbor Day to each plant a tree in his memory. More recently, I planted another tree for my first grandchild. I hope you will please join me and plant a few trees of your own. By reconnecting with nature, we leave living legacies for the generations to come.


John Gunyou is Board Chair of Three Rivers Park District, which connects ten million people with nature every year through their 27,000 acres of natural areas, twenty regional parks and reserves, five nature centers, and 300 miles of trails maintained throughout the western suburbs.


A planting plan for future generations - Lakeshore Weekly News, June 17, 2013

My dad taught me long ago that we do not plant trees for ourselves; we plant them for our grandchildren. I take those words to heart, and have tried to live by them throughout my life.

At Three Rivers Park District, we take seriously our role as stewards of the region's natural resources, and this commitment is particularly evident in our seven park reserves. In each of these parks - Baker, Carver, Crow-Hassan, Elm Creek, Hyland Lake, Lake Rebecca and Murphy-Hanrehan - we are committed to restoring and maintaining a minimum of 80 percent of the land in its natural state. At a park like Crow-Hassan, that means restoring native prairie. At parks like Carver and Lake Rebecca, that means reforestation.

To help achieve this mission, our Forestry staff grows our own plant stock from locally-sourced seeds at our nursery in Crow-Hassan Park Reserve. Each year, Three Rivers plants more than 62,000 native trees and shrubs in our parks, helping to restore the Big Woods and oak savannas that once covered our region.

Forestry management is not simply planting trees and letting them grow. Careful, active and continuous management is needed to control and prevent damage by disease and invasive insects. Oak wilt remains a problem that threatens to devastate the mature oak trees we all admire, and there is an even more looming menace on the horizon.

Emerald ash borer has not yet been found in our parks, but unfortunately, it is only a matter of time. In response, our staff is proactively removing and replacing about 200 ash trees each year in some of the most highly-used places in our parks, like campgrounds and picnic areas. This allows us to replant other tree species now, which will lessen the immediate impacts on our parks once the ash borers inevitably arrive.

We can't do it alone. I especially want to recognize the generosity of the countless donors to our Forests Forever program. Contributions to Forests Forever have made it possible for Three Rivers to plant thousands of additional trees in our parks, and that is a great way to leave a living legacy for generations to come.

The year Dad passed away, my children joined me on Arbor Day to each plant a tree in his memory. This past year, I planted another tree in a public park for my first grandchild. Each month, we take a picture as they both grow. I sincerely hope you might consider joining me in leaving a similar legacy for your own children and grandchildren.

If you'd like to learn more about our Forests Forever program, please visit Information on Three Rivers' natural resources management efforts is available at:


John Gunyou is board chair of the Three Rivers Park District, and represents the communities of Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield, Hopkins, Shorewood, Deephaven, Excelsior, Tonka Bay, Greenwood and Woodland. To contact him, e-mail


Spring transitions at Three Rivers - Lakeshore Weekly News, April 1, 2013

With ice out in the pond behind our home, it appears that spring has finally arrived this year.

Opinions vary about the sure signs of spring. For some, it's the return of bird songs to greet the dawn. For my wife Kim, the transition has something to do with clothing colors and fabrics, a seasonal rite I have never fully grasped.

For me, the sure sign of spring is when the snow pile meringues give up their hidden treasures. I have lately been finding all sorts of surprises in my yard, and not just the early crocuses. I am discovering tools I forgot I ever owned.

I'm not sure what it is about spring that prompts such a feeling of discovery and renewal. For our ancestors who lived before the advent of central heating and snow blowers, it was probably gratitude for surviving another Minnesota winter. These days, it's far less life threatening, but still meaningful.

There's a certain energy born of cleaning out the old and starting life anew. Digging out the garden tools and straightening up the garage. Washing the last of the road salt off the car and tuning up the mower. Blowing the carbon out of our insulated winter lives, and rediscovering our neighbors across the back fence.

It's much the same for us at Three Rivers as we transition from winter to spring activities at our parks and on our trails. We need to be ready when our customers swap their skis and snowshoes for hiking boots, bikes and golf clubs, as they store their parkas and break out the swimsuits.

For our dedicated maintenance and facilities staff, these are some of the busiest days of the year. Those at Hyland Ski & Snowboard Area are working hard to transition from a winter recreation hub to summer activities. At Glen Lake Golf & Practice Center in Minnetonka, they are diligently getting the clubhouse, course and practice facilities ready for another year of challenging my golfing prowess.

Spring is a busy, exciting time at Three Rivers, with our trails, play areas, golf courses and other facilities opening nearly every day. If you still aren't convinced of spring's arrival, consider this: in less than two months, the swim pond at Lake Minnetonka Regional Park will be open! For more information about our parks and trails, please be sure to visit


John Gunyou is board chair of the Three Rivers Park District, and represents the communities of Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield, Hopkins, Shorewood, Deephaven, Excelsior, Tonka Bay, Greenwood and Woodland.


Thanks - Lakeshore Weekly News, December 11, 2012

As your newly-elected Three Rivers Park Commissioner, I want to thank you all for entrusting me with the responsibility to represent you. I am both humbled and honored to be given that opportunity.

I will take office on Jan. 17, and thought it important that I share my priorities for the next two years as your representative:

First and foremost, I will work collaboratively to get things done for you. As one of five new faces on our seven-member board, I will respect the opinions of my fellow commissioners. I will also work to strengthen relationships with our state, local and private partners for the benefit of you, our shared constituents.

Among all the campaign signs that recently littered our landscape, I will always remember one near my home. It showed a combination donkey/elephant with the tagline: "Stop fighting, Start fixing." That is my pledge to you.

Second, I firmly believe in open, transparent government. We exist to serve, and I promise to listen respectfully to all opinions, and to thoughtfully consider all options before taking a position on issues.

To that end, I have already begun meeting with individuals and groups in my district, and plan to continue those listening sessions on a regular basis. I have also asked the district to assign me a dedicated phone number and e-mail address so that you can contact me directly with any issues and concerns.

Third, I am committed to maintaining the quality services we have all come to expect - in a fiscally responsible way. I will draw on my 40 years of proven experience to restrain tax growth, and to deliver good value for your tax dollar.

Three Rivers faces growing and changing service demands, with a limited capacity to meet those expectations. We need a sustainable financing strategy, and I will continue to provide the same innovative leadership I have for many years to successfully meet that challenge.

Thank you again for your trust. I look forward to serving you and your families.

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John Gunyou
Three Rivers Parks Board Chair